Capturing The Spirit Of East Texas’s Wild Muscadine- Deep in the Pineywoods the Southern muscadine reigns supreme. These wild sweet grapes can be found draped across East Texas fence rows, along creek and river beds, and hanging from pine trees across the region. Muscadines make for excellent jams and jellies. They are even pleasant to eat right off the vine, however the spirit of the muscadine can be best experienced through the wild flavors of wine.
The proper name for the East Texas muscadine is Vitis Rotundifolia grape, which simply means, “berries.” Muscadines are part of East Texas’s rich history, with uses dating back to those of Native Americans who previously inhabited the region. The Native Americans even knew that the delicious grapes made for excellent raisins once they dried and fell from the vine.
East Texans often refer to muscadine grapes as mustang grapes, however, the two are different grapes. Mustang grapes are generally harvested in late July and early August, while muscadines are ready for harvest from late August through early September. Muscadines ripen individually within a loose cluster, while other grapes ripen in a synchronized fashion.
East Texas muscadines are also very disease resistant and therefore suited perfectly for the humid climates of the Pineywoods. Cultivated grapes in East Texas will eventually be overcome by Pierce’s Disease. Pierce’s Disease has long since been recognized as the most significant limiting factor for grape culture in Texas, as well as other states along the Gulf Coast. Pierce’s Disease is bacteria spread by the sharpshooter insect.
If you live in East Texas and have been thinking of trying your hand at wine making, the muscadine is a great grape to start with. Muscadine wine requires no vineyard considering the grape is on tap in the Pineywoods. While some muscadines are cultivated in the area most of the grapes harvested for wine making are grown in the wild. Muscadines are a highly sought due to their natural nutrients. The seeds are encapsulated, thus baring extremely high levels of antioxidant activity. Most muscadine grapes are bronze and black, but some stay green their entire life span.
You will need a few things to get started. You can purchase a wine-making kit that has all of the required equipment in order to make wine from wild fresh muscadines, or you can take a look around the kitchen and collect items you have that can be used to make wine. You will also need a brewing vessel. Some use a simple stainless steel stock pot, while others use a large stoneware crock. You will also need a large colander, a second large stock pot, a potato masher, cheese cloth and an airlock. Airlocks may range from something as simple as tubing that reaches from below the surface of the wine to a quart jar of water, to a special plastic device that can be placed into a hole drilled in the lid of a crock or rubber stopper for the carboy. You will also need a long-handled spoon and ladle.
Gathering your ingredient includes picking approximately 6lbs of wild muscadine grapes for every gallon of wine you intend to make. For instance, if you intend to make five gallons of wine you will need 30lbs of muscadines. You will also need 2lbs of sugar per every intended gallon, and one package of red-wine yeast per every five intended gallons. However, even if you only intend to make one gallon of wine you will still need one full package of red-wine yeast.
Now that you have gathered all of your equipment and ingredients, you need to prepare the fruit by washing and stemming your muscadines. It is best to use gloves throughout this process. The acid from the muscadine grapes can cause mild to severe skin irritation. After washing and stemming the wild grapes, use the potato masher to mash the grapes. Then place the grapes and juice into a large stockpot and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, continuing to mash occasionally. Transfer the grapes and juice to your chosen brewing vessel, and stir in sugar as the juice cools. Be sure to stir the juice and sugar thoroughly so that all sugar melts, and no remaining clumps are present.
Allow the mixture to sit for 24 hours. After 24 hours have lapsed add the red-wine yeast, then cover and attach the airlock. Let the wine ferment for 45 days. After 45 days, use a ladle to strain the wine through a cheesecloth lined colander. After straining the wine, place the wine back into the brewing vessel and add ½ cup of sugar per every gallon. Allow the wine to ferment for another 30 days. At the end of 30 days you can bottle the wild spirits of the East Texas muscadine.
In order to bottle your wild wine you will want to purchase wine bottles, corks or caps, and a bottle capper. A bottle capper can be found in brew shops or online. You can also using canning jars, which can be purchased at Wal-Mart or clean bottles you would like to recycle.
When bottling your wine use a length of food-grade plastic tubing to siphon the wine from the brewing vessel into your bottle. Be sure to keep the end of the tubing off the bottom of the brewing vessel in order to avoid drawing sediment into your bottled wine.
If you are not a wine connoisseur, make yourself a little wild muscadine jelly. Making wild grape jelly is simple. All you need is about five pounds of muscadine grapes, some pectin, and plenty of sugar. If you are diabetic or if you avoid consuming refined sugars, natural sweeteners can be used in place of sugar such as Splenda or Stevia. You will also need a large spoon, ladle, jar funnel and a set of tongs.
Wash and stem your muscadines, then mash your grapes with a potato masher. Muscadine jelly should only be made in small batches- approximately six cups at a time. Place the mashed grapes and juice into a pot, covering them with about two inches of water and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat and allow juice to simmer for 25 minutes. Strain the boiling grape juice and pulp in a colander, then again with a cheesecloth back into the pot. Bring the juice back up to a boil for about five minutes and then add sugar. Regular pectin calls for seven cups of sugar to five cups of grape juice, and one box of pectin. (Those who wish to avoid consuming refined sugars should use the low-sugar or no sugar pectin) After mixing in the sugar, and ensuring that no clumps exist turn the heat down to simmer, and cook until it reaches 220 degree on a candy thermometer (this process may take up to 30 minutes).
This is a great time to soak your jelly jars in hot water. Doing so will keep the jars from breaking when hot jelly is poured into them.
Skim the foam off the top and pour the hot muscadine juice into the jars. Place the jars into a pot of boiling water, allowing the water to cover each jar by two to four inches. Boil for 15 minutes then carefully remove the jars and place them on a towel. By morning you should have a nice batch of wild muscadine jelly.
If you really want to go all out and make authentic East Texas muscadine jelly, cut a small circular swatch of material, place it over the seal, and reapply the lid. This will make you muscadine jelly look just like Granny’s used to.