Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com. Among the holy trinity of revered backyard fruit — fig, persimmon, and muscadine — it was the twining and twisting grapevines that
Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com.
Among the holy trinity of revered backyard fruit — fig, persimmon, and muscadine — it was the twining and twisting grapevines that held the enchantment of a fairy tale for me.
My grandmother had fig and persimmon trees in her yard, but for muscadines, we relied on our kindhearted neighbor across the street, a widow who had no grandchildren of her own and who spent the seasons tending to her flower beds and vegetable garden. She had meticulously trained her muscadine vines to weave along a thin trellis of wire, just the right height for me to wander beneath, and she encouraged us to come by and pick to our heart’s content, which we did, filling a wicker basket with those plump, deep purple grapes.
While she and my grandmother visited with one another, I’d play outside underneath the vine’s woody canopy, darting through the dappled sunlight filtering through, imagining myself in my own private Hundred Acre Wood, my own cloistered Sherwood Forest.
It was here, beneath these sinuous branches, that I honed the technique — an art form, really — of savoring muscadines, so different from a grocery-store grape. I knew just how to pierce the chewy skin with my teeth and squeeze the sweet pulp into my mouth, how to deftly spit out the seeds into my hand before discarding the peel.
Along with the muscadines, our neighbor always sent us home with Ball jars of her homemade muscadine jelly, but it wasn’t until years later that I learned people also made wine from this fruit.
My grandmother wasn’t a drinker, but she’d let me pull out her crystal goblets at Thanksgiving and fill them with ginger ale (for white) and cranberry juice (for red). In our own small ritual of celebration, she taught me Latin toasts — Salutaria! and Prosit! — words that sounded so dignified, so unexpected in our rural setting.
I suppose, looking back, it was also unexpected that my grandmother — who, in her lifetime, was a Randolph County Quaker, a dress shop clerk, a tax-office secretary — knew Latin. Yet she knew the botanical names for every plant in her garden, and when I struggled with a word in a book, she’d help me with the Latin etymology. Understand the root, she believed, and you’ll understand everything.
Because of her, I knew that the word “Piedmont,” where we lived, meant “foot of the mountains,” from the Latin pied for “foot” and mont for “mountains.” Our roots were here, and, for her, that meant understanding what grew beneath our feet, too: red oaks, white oaks, and pines; persimmons and pecans; tobacco and tomatoes. Figs and muscadines.
When I eventually had my first sip of muscadine wine, it threw me back to a world I had once known, to golden afternoons and a fanciful grove to wander. And I think of my grandmother’s Thanksgiving toasts whenever I’m driving in the Piedmont foothills, past all those tobacco fields that have been transformed into vineyards now, hundreds of them, such carefully tended rows of grapevines — a few muscadines but mostly Vitis vinifera — each one standing so dignified amid this breathtaking rural landscape, their roots entrenched in legacy, their branches eternally intertwined with the past.
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