This is the season for muscadines, the wild grape native to the American Southeast. They are in season during September and October, and so just when you think you can't bear the heat for one more week in Florida or Georgia, these bronze and purple globes show up at the produce market bearing the promise of fall.
Muscadines are only partially related to more domesticated grapes. They're wild and they taste like it. The inner flesh is rich and thick, with an intense sweetness like a Concord grape, and they have tough spicy skins that taste like plums.
Scuppernongs are a specific type of muscadine, usually bronze or green, and they are slightly less sweet than the purple variety. They were one of the first types of grape to be used to make wine in the United States, and some people still make homemade wine from the muscadine and scuppernong vines ranging over their back lots. The fruit makes a wonderful jam, too.
Muscadine jam in half-pints. This is a rich, spicy, almost smoky jam.
I would go back to the produce stand two or three times a week during muscadine season, greedily buying up pints for jam, or just for eating. Sometimes I peel the skin away, push the seeds out with my thumb and eat the insides. But most of the time I pop the whole thing in my mouth and spit the seeds out, savoring that wild taste you find in so few fruits these days.
If you are so lucky as to find a pint or two of muscadines where you live, buy them, eat them and enjoy their wild flavor here at the very end of the summer.
• Muscadine Recipes at North Carolina Wines
• More muscadine pictures and info at Wikipedia
(Re-edited from post originally published October 6, 2006)