Recently our CSA surprised me by including in our fruit share a package of regionally-grown organic muscadine grapes. This is a native grape variety most often associated with the South. When I told Carl about them, he right away exclaimed, "Scuppernong!" That left me with questions.
It turns out that scuppernong grapes are the type of muscadine grape that Carl is most familiar with. When people mention either name to southerners, it seems that just about everyone has a memory of being at a home which has grapevines growing somewhere in the yard. Muscadine grapevines. People are quickly drawn to the memory of popping the flesh of these thick-skinned grapes into their mouths, savoring the tart-sweet taste, and spitting out the seeds.
Carl's mom is from North Carolina and his dad from Tennessee, so he immediately recognized the variety, though it is seldom grown this far north.
Back when I worked in our tasting room, it did seem that every time I poured our sweet Harmony wine or Suite wine it would evoke in people the exact same experience. Over and over, people would tell me that the wine immediately transported them to memories of their grandparents' or parents' houses, where the native Concord or Niagara grapevines in the backyard put forth those familiar bursting flavors.
Muscadine is a different species--Vitis rotundifolia--than Concord or Niagara grapes, which are members of the Vitis labrusca species. All are native to North America, but are associated with different regions.
As unfamiliar as I was personally with muscadine grapes, I did immediately know what I wanted to do with the ones which found themselves in my kitchen. I am a huge fan of the PBS series called A Chef's Life, which follows the experiences of North Carolina's wonderful chef Vivian Howard. I had recently watched an episode from season 1 in which Howard focused on muscadines. In the episode she spoke with a local winemaker about making muscadine wine and she developed muscadine grape menu items for her restaurant, Chef & The Farmer. I remembered her topping a pizza with a muscadine grape spread, caramelized onions, and blue cheese. I had wondered what this tasted like, and now I set about to find out for myself.
Rather than making a whole pizza, I decided to put together a batch of flatbread, which all members of my family really like and which only takes about an hour and a half (including rising and cooking time) to make. While the flatbread was rising, I roasted the grapes together with shallots, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
For supper last night, we topped the flatbreads with a variety of toppings, including the grape/blue cheese combination. It was complex and surprising, a blend of sweet, tangy, and creamy flavors which was really memorable. My recipe is here.