October 2, 2014

‘Tis The Season For Muscadines

The fall is the season for picking wild muscadines which can be found throughout much of Arkansas, and are said to grow in all but the most northern counties in the state. They are often confused with wild grapes which grow in clusters and hang from a vine with large leaves. The muscadine, on the other hand, grows on a vine with small heart shaped leaves and the fruit hangs with each individual muscadine stem attached to the vine.

Muscadines have a very different and distinct taste from other grapes and get their name from their rich musky aroma. Native to Arkansas, muscadines are the oldest grape in America, and were cultivated by Native Americans over 400 years ago. An underestimated fruit for a variety of reasons, muscadines are most commonly known for making wine and homemade jelly, but are also very tasty and healthy when eaten fresh.

muscadines

The fruit is about the size of a concord grape and similar in color with a dark purple appearance. Muscadines have a thick skin that is somewhat rough in texture on the outside, and is where much of the antioxidant power of the muscadine grape is stored. The skin makes up about forty percent of the fruit and encapsulates a pulp sack that holds three or four rather large seed. This thick skin gives muscadine grapes a natural resistance to disease, fungi, and insects, which means they can be produced and farmed with only half the sprays required by other varieties of grapes.

muscadines

Muscadines have significantly more antioxidants than other grapes and as much as six to eight times more antioxidants than whole blueberries. The pulp and large seed are an excellent source of dietary fiber, plus they contain no saturated fat and are cholesterol free. Don’t worry if the lips have a slight itch after eating a handful of muscadine fruit that is one of the best wild fruits to be found in Arkansas.

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muscadines

You can transplant a muscadine seedling from a nursery or by layering an existing vine in your yard for a great source of cover. Note that if you want to grow the fruit itself you must have both male and female vines growing next to each other. Muscadines prefer a warm climate with high humidity and flourish in areas of full sun with well-draining, fertile, sandy soil and temperatures that usually stay above ten degrees Fahrenheit.

Muscadines are gathered by local residents primarily for their juice which is used for making the best tasting jelly available.  The fall equinox marks the time of year that you should be on the lookout for muscadine vines.  They can be found along highways, county roads, and by hiking throughout the beautiful forests.  I especially enjoy walking down logging roads, beginning a couple of weeks before the official arrival of fall and a couple of weeks after the fall equinox, searching for the vines that grow out of the ground and often climb high into the surrounding trees.

Brian Hook

Brian Hook works as an Account Executive for Crain Media in Searcy and is a graduate of the Journalism Department at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Brian is passionate about the outdoors, sports, and enjoys writing. Having grown up in different areas of Arkansas, Brian developed an early childhood love for hunting and competitive turkey calling. As a teenager Brian won many turkey calling contests that included the Junior World Championship Turkey Calling Contest, Arkansas State Junior and Intermediate Championship and Mississippi State Junior Championship along with several other contests.