In grad school, I lived in northeast Georgia (kind of - we were north and east of Atlanta so...). It was a lovely place where you made friends with the honey man at the farmer's market and ran into chefs and farmers around town. Not exactly the same as the urban and nearby suburban Chicago experience.
The second fall I lived there, I took over a column in the local alternative weekly from one of our alumnae, where she had written all about the cool things happening related to food or farming - anything but restaurants - in the area. I knew there were some chefs in the area that foraged and emailed one to ask (beg) if she'd take me along so I could cover it.
One rainy afternoon I drove the windy, rural road out of the county and to the land where we'd agreed to meet. She'd brought friends - an amateur mushroom hunter and two farmers (whose land we were on). We started by walking the road that wound back into 'the woods', but really led to a clearing I didn't know was there yet. As we walked, we chatted (and tasted) about wood sorrel and chainy briar and kudzu. We dodged fire ants (a watch-where-you-walk skill I didn't really have, honestly, till my stint in Georgia). We debated if mushrooms were edible or likely to kill. We picked wild persimmons and black walnuts and then put on boots to trek through the forest - over logs and through very shallow streams. It wasn't until I was reminded to watch out for copperheads that I realized I might be way in over my head here.
When we came across some wild muscadine vines, everyone got excited. Well, everyone other than me. Frankly, I didn't really get what was so exciting about these red grapes, I mean, I usually prefer green.
They all took one and handed one to me. "Try it, you'll love it. But watch out for the seeds."
They tasted like grape candy in the best possible way. Which, I know, to someone like me sounds not so appetizing because I'm honestly not a big fan of grape flavoring. But these were different. They were sweet and tart and earthy and, well, also just like a grape Jolly Rancher (do they still make those?).
I had never seen them in a grocery store. Not in Athens, not here in Chicago. I guess I kind of assumed they were just something people stumble on. A happy accident that rewards you with fruit that tastes like candy. So when I saw them pop up in the grocery store (Pete's, for those of you in the Chicago area) several weeks ago (the timing coincides with their peak season), I bought them, pleased as punch to see them and excited to do something with them.
Muscadine Grape Sorbet
1 1/2-2 lbs muscadines (I used the deep purple ones, but they do also come in green)
1/2 c dry red wine
1 c water
1-2 T sugar (or to taste, depending on your preferences and how sweet your grapes are)
Put all your ingredients in a saucepan. Cook until soupy (this takes a little while, but honestly doesn't even really require you to pay attention to it, so feel free to multitask). Strain to remove seeds, peels, weird, kind of jellyfish-looking pulp. Cool mixture to room temp (or thereabouts). Spin in an ice cream maker until frosty and a pretty light pink OR pour into freezable container and freeze without spinning. Freeze completely or scoop for soft-serve-like sorbet right then and there. Watch out for copperheads.