A Week on North Carolina's Crystal Coast

Southern Grapes

My not-so-secret agenda for this trip was to obtain fruit with which to make sweet preserves once home in New Jersey, to wit figs, muscadine and scuppernong grapes. As it turned out, two out of three ain't bad. Figs were simply unobtainable. Oh, they were there all right. I even picked and ate some at Governor Tryon's Palace, sticky and sweet and just as good as I remember figs tasting, pale green skin and rosy flesh. But I wanted a couple of quarts with which to make fig jam. I was told that no one sells them because everyone has them. They just give the figs away. Fine, point me in the right direction and they can give them to me. Didn't happen.

I asked at roadside stands, such as this one.
The pleasant man explained that he couldn't sell figs because they'd melt down in the heat.
He'd need a cooler to keep them in, and didn't have one available.

Surely did have watermelons though, surprising in the severe drought North Carolina is experiencing this summer.

I was egged on by this sign I noticed, in front of a Baptist church. As I was photographing it this nice couple pulled in. He's a deacon in the church and they wondered if we needed any help. Paul and Woody explained about my jam-making proclivities. They thought maybe they could suggest someone with figs (didn't pan out, or at least they never called Woody's cell phone. But they did know about grapes. There'd be some at Gillette Farm. ("Now," they said, "he never liked his name pronounced like that razor blade company, always said to call him "gill-et", not "jill-et.") We took a reconnaissance ride by the place and sure enough, there were neatly trellised vines and a sign by the road for grapes. This was early in the week, so we made plans to stop by on Saturday, just before our journey home. And that's what we did.

Pulled in the driveway, and I jumped out of the car. Knocked at the door but there was no answer. Then here came Miz Gillette riding up on a quad from a barn at the back. I explained that we'd seen her sign and I wanted to buy some grapes. She led me around to the back door where there was a box with half a dozen plastic bags, open at the top, filled with bronzey green muscadine grapes. "There's about two pounds in each bag," she said. "Maybe a bit more. I sell them for $2 each." Didn't take me long to decide I'd take four. No, make that five. She got some twist 'ems and was closing the bags. Told me that when her husband was alive they had 50 acres of grapes, and he'd drive them to a winery in Virginia. But now she had only a few vines in production. The scuppernongs would be along in about a week. I explained to this nice elderly lady that I wouldn't be here in a week's time. I'd be taking the grapes home to New Jersey tomorrow, and using them to make jam and jelly.

"Grape hull pie." she said. "I don't remember exactly the recipe. But you hull your grapes and cook the pulp, and strain it to get out the seeds. Then add the hulls and cook them. When they're soft you chop them a bit. Add sugar and eggs and, something else, I forget. Pour it in a crust and bake it. Top it with meringue. It's been a long time since I've made one." she said softly. By now were were smiling at each other, two women who like to cook. I told her I'm Judy, she said her name is Kathleen. We shook hands, and parted way, likely never to meet again. But I gathered some nice memories to go with the grapes.

Here's three bags, measured out to three quarts, rinsed three times.

Once they're rinsed it's easy to hull the grapes.
Grab a few in your left hand. Take them, one at a time, into your right hand.
Twiddle around until the stem scar points up, then squeeze.
The pale green eyeball-like pulp and seeds squooshes out, emptying the now-flattened hull.
Waste not, want not. Both parts are used for preserves. I made a spiced muscadine jam,
with just a hint of vinegar and spiced with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.
Give it a month for the flavors to meld together, and it will be superb with roast pork or ham.

Before we left Miz Kathleen's I walked over to the trellised scuppernong vines,
and took a picture. Took a couple to eat too. Their perfume is even more intense.

Lucky me, we found a roadside farm stand on the way home, selling scuppernongs by the quart.
$3.50 for one, $3 apiece for two or more. With room in the cooler, I bought three quarts.
And once home, cooked hulls and pulp together, to color the juice and make some intensely flavored jelly.

Back to By the Sea on a Barrier Island

Back to the main Diary Page