One of the benefits of marrying a woodsman is that I have been introduced to a wondrous and sometimes daunting array of Nature’s bounty. Though I was raised in North Carolina, I never had the pleasure of picking wild muscadine grapes and eating them, road dust and all, under the plentiful shade of their lattice-like weave of vines and leaves. As a child, I would spend hours in the branches of a mulberry tree that hung over a creek behind a friend’s house, gorging myself until I was purple from fingertips to shoelaces. But beyond that, and the occasional wild blue and black berry picking excursions my family would embark on while in Maine, most of the fruit I ate, and certainly the grapes, came from the store.
Muscadines have a flavor that is… well… unique. I’m not a fan of muscadine wine, let’s just say. And the wild grapes? One or two are fine, but I’m far from wanting to pop handfuls into my mouth. They are powerfully sweet, often mouth-puckering tart, and contain more than the slightest hint of musk. And the skins? Thick and resistant to chewing! But don’t let that stop you. I was converted earlier this year when a neighbor gifted me with her muscadine jam — a big mason jar of it. I was skeptical, to be honest, and accepted it with the thought in my mind that it wouldn’t find much use in my kitchen, until I was preparing a venison loin for dinner and the recipe called for making a glaze with some kind of berry preserve, which I didn’t have. On a whim, I pulled out the jar of nearly black muscadine jam and spooned a dollop into the pan, hoping for the best. The beautiful color and deep grape-y flavor was a boon to the venison and the next morning I found myself spreading the inky stuff over a slice of toast.
Fortunately for me and my new-found obsession, muscadine grape vines cling tenaciously to every woodland surface around our house. A walk to the mailbox one recent evening enlightened us to the sheer numbers of ripening grapes and my picking buddy and I made plans to come back to pick them, while I went to the internet to find new uses for the harvest. I came across a variety of pie recipes that call for using the hulls only, but it was Nanci McDermott’s recipe that really inspired me. I liked the idea of using the whole grape and so ventured forth creating my own version of Nanci’s pie, this time made into a cobbler with a sweet and salty crumbly crust.
Wild Muscadine Cobbler
FOR THE FILLING
FOR THE CRUMBLE
Pick, split and separate the grapes, placing hulls into large saucepan and pulp (with seeds) in a small saucepan. Add water to just cover hulls, and set to boil over medium-high heat until hulls are tender, about 30 minutes. At the same time, set pan containing pulp over medium heat and set to simmer until pulp is loose, about 15 minutes. Using a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl, pour pulp and seeds into strainer and, with a spatula or the back of a spoon, press the liquid through the mesh into the bowl. Throw away the seeds and return clean pulp to saucepan and set to simmer again. Add cornstarch, lemon juice, salt, vanilla and 1 1/4 cup sugar. Stir frequently until sugar is dissolved and pulp is slightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Once the hulls are tender, remove from heat and strain over a large bowl, reserving liquid. Return hulls to saucepan and add 1/4 cup sugar, stirring over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into greased 2 quart baking dish. Take pulp and pour evenly over hulls. *To reserved hull liquid, you may add 1/4-1/2 cups sugar and reduce, over high heat, into a syrup, if desired.*
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
To make crumble topping, combine Bisquick, oatmeal, cinnamon and sugar in medium bowl. Pour melted butter over and mix until crumbly. Pour over hulls and gently spread to cover. Bake in pre-heated oven for 40 minutes, or until lightly golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for 20-30 minutes — serve slightly warm with vanilla ice cream.
*Recipe by Mara