The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Free For The Taking

By Ina T. Wray © 1989

Issue: October, 1989

Sometime between the end of August and the middle of September, in the foothills of mothering Rabun County, Georgia, was muscadine-ripening time. It was a coveted nectarous fruit by critters, insects, birds, and mankind. Wildlife indulged where nature grew them, while people gathered and preserved them for later use.

In the early thirties, mountain families depended on much that nature provided.

My mama, Gertrude Tucker, observed her surroundings and took advantage of natural edible foods, which thrived from nature's planting, to supplement cultivated provisions. Every fall she knew where an abundance of the free-for-the-taking wild grapes would be. She also knew the exact harvesting time.

My thoughts glide back to an excursion with Mama for this purpose.

Early, while dew glistened on the tall grass and weeds. Mama called to me, "Put your shoes on, Ina. The muscadines should be ripe. Get a lard bucket and let's get an early start. We'll get what we can work up today."

The muscadines chose to grow in a hollow some distance from our rural dwelling in the hills, probably a mile. But a mile, for those of us who walked almost everywhere we went, was a short span.

Mama carried a basket with a handle and an enameled dish pan. I followed her as she led the way past the garden down the path from the weatherworn, clapboard house. We left the foot trail, and tall weeds grew in the field we crossed. Red-stemmed pokeweeds ladened with drooping clusters of purple-black berries and ragweed flourished prolifically. Fall was a few weeks away, but vegetation had begun to die and dry stalks and stubble scratched our legs. Mama had been wise having me wear my shoes. I wonder now if I had overalls I could have worn.

We entered a grove of trees. The air, unpenetrated by the warmth of the sun, was cool and damp. We tramped through the clammy, dead leaves, forging our way to where the vines with lush, green leaves swathed the tall trees. Most of the tantalizing fruit - two, three, or four to the cluster - hung out of reach, far above our heads.

"Watch where you step," mama cautioned, "there are lots of ripe muscadines on the ground. Pick up those that are still firm."

Before putting any in my pail, I gulped down enough to satisfy my craving.

Mama tugged at the swinging vines until the ripe muscadines plopped to the ground. Frequently we were whacked as they showered down around us.

When we picked up all we could find on the leaf-covered ground, Mama jerked another vine. We continued working this way until our containers were filled with quality fruit.

Loaded with our treasure, we trudged home. There the preserving process began.

Well-drawn water was used to wash our harvest. We separated the pulp from the hulls by pinching each muscadine between the thumb and forefinger. The pulp and hulls were boiled separately until tender. Then Mama strained the pulp through a clean, cotton flour sack to remove the seeds. Jelly was made from the juice, and the hulls were canned for pie-making during the winter.

Mama baked a delicious pie for dessert that evening. The rich aroma and the full tangy flavor of the steaming pie made a lasting impression.

Mama's old recipe may bring back memories to some or entice others to try it.

Muscadine Hull Pie

2 1/2 cups muscadine hulls and pulp
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour

Wash fully ripened muscadines. Separate pulp and hulls. Cook pulp slowly until soft. Rub through sieve. Boil hulls until tender. Combine sugar and flour and add to muscadine mixture. Add butter. Pour into pastry lined pan. Cover with top crust or with strips of pastry. Bake in hot oven (425 degrees) about 25 minutes.

Editor's Note... My aunts told me that my grandmother made "grape pie" when they were little girls, but none of them could remember how she did it. I have tried to find this recipe for years, so I was really tickled when it showed up one day in the morning's mail. I want to say a personal thank you to Ina Wray for her contribution of this recipe.
Susan Thigpen, Editor