photograph by ISTOCK/ASIFE

The oldest cultivated grapevine in North America grows on the northern tip of Roanoke Island.

Affectionately known as The Mother Vine, this old girl is a gnarly two feet thick at the base and has been producing scuppernongs — a variety of the family of grapes known as muscadines — for at least 400 years. This single vine once covered nearly a half-acre.

We North Carolinians love our native grapes. Compared to the imported, thin-skinned, seedless grapes found in the grocery stores, muscadines might seem like a lot of trouble, but they are worth it. The skins are thick and the pulp is shot full of stubborn seeds. Ah, but the flavor, the perfume, the musky sweetness. No other grape compares.


Muscadine Wine Cake

Yields: 1 (10-inch) Bundt Cake

Cake

Nonstick cooking spray

1 box white cake mix

1 box blackberry Jell-O

½ cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup Muscadine wine

Glaze

¼ cup (½ stick) butter

½ cup Muscadine wine

2 to 3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, divided

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mist the inside of the Bundt pan (10-cup capacity) with nonstick spray.

Combine the cake mix, Jell-O, oil, eggs, and wine in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer set to medium speed until the batter is smooth and well-combined, about 5 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, make the glaze.

For the glaze: Bring the butter and wine to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar. Set aside.

Place the cake pan on a wire rack. Use a thin skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Spoon half of the glaze over the cake, letting it seep down into the holes. Cool the cake for 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a serving plate, carefully turn it upright, and let it cool to room temperature.

Stir in enough more confectioners’ sugar into the glaze to thicken it to the consistency of icing. Let it cool while the cake cools. Drizzle the thickened glaze over the cake.


Worldwide, where there are grapes, wine soon follows.

Homemade wine is a North Carolina craft and a cottage industry of long standing. It’s a commercial enterprise, as well. These days, North Carolina ranks among the top 10 grape- and wine-producing states. A drive down to the coast takes us past wineries that produce sweet, deeply fruity muscadine wine with pride. The billboards lure us to exit, sip, and buy a few bottles. The grapes are notably nutritious, bursting with antioxidants. So we imbibe, of course, for our health. It’s the only responsible thing to do.

Smart bakers also pour a little fruit of the vine into the popular muscadine cake. This cake is very moist, intensely sweet, and more purple than you might expect. Some people compare a muscadine cake to a giant, glazed cake doughnut. It will surely satisfy the famous Southern sweet tooth.

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Sheri Castle hails from Watauga County, but came down off the mountain to go to Carolina and now lives in Fearrington Village. She is a writer, recipe developer, cooking teacher, and popular public speaker. She is fueled by mountains, excellent bourbon, farmers’ markets, and searching for the right word. Sheri believes that stories happen only to those who can tell them. Check her out at shericastle.com.

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