The muscadine season in Georgia lasts just a couple of months in autumn, but like it is with the sweetest watermelons of June or the juiciest heirloom tomatoes of August, it’s worth the wait. Paulk Family Vineyards in Wray, in middle Georgia, is the country’s largest grower of muscadines, a wild but cultivated grape.
Muscadines are considered the “superfruit of the South.” My alma mater, the University of Georgia studied the grapes and determined that they have high levels of ellagic acid, which inhibits the growth of abnormal cells, and very high total antioxidants, according to Paulk’s website.
If you’ve never tasted a muscadine, be prepared for a thick skin and a bright, sweet burst of juicy grape flesh. In the store, look for clean, unblemished grapes in the quart package. (And I’m sure I’m not the only shopper who does this – checking the package bottom to ensure berries and grapes are fresh – that’s where the spoilage first appears.) With muscadines, look for smaller grapes – the flavor will be more concentrated.
Ritz-Carlton Atlanta Chef Brian Jones serves muscadines in a palate-cleansing sorbet at the Atlanta Grill. Chef Jones is a Southerner with an affection for our native foodways, including muscadine grapes. He uses them in house-made jams and jellies, crushed and infused in vodka, and in a syrup for waffles and pancakes.
Inspired by Chef Brian, I replicated the muscadine sorbet. With an ice cream maker, sorbets are very simple to make – just crushed fruit and simple syrup, strained and frozen. I have a Krups LaGlaciere that’s about 10 years old – the most difficult part is remembering to put the canister in the freezer overnight before making the sorbet.
Muscadine Sorbet Recipe
I made this at home using vanilla sugar (simply a split vanilla bean placed in a jar of granulated sugar) for extra oomph, but plain granulated sugar works just the same. The recipe can also be frozen in popsicle molds, perfect for children, because my kids loved this!
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 quart muscadines, washed and dried
Ice cream maker
1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water and sugar, stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Place clean grapes in a food processor, pulse to a coarse grind. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and transfer pulp to strainer. With the back of a spatula, press juice from the pulp. Be patient and gentle; this step takes time to get all the juice out of the pulp. Discard solids.
3. Combine juice and simple syrup. Place in refrigerator to chill, then freeze according to ice cream maker’s instructions.
Inspired by Chef Brian Jones’ muscadine sorbet at the Atlanta Grill, Ritz-Carlton.
Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer. Muscadine jam recipe provided by Brian Jones of Ritz-Carlton Atlanta.