Our grapevine is loaded with muscadines this year, and every time I ride by on the lawn mower, I stop for a handful. The grass in that section of the yard gets more attention when the grapes are ripe. The velvet blackness of the grapes or the white gold tell of their ripeness. We have both white and black grapes, both with distinctive flavors, but both are best when they are ripest. The grapevines have been here for many years now, longer than the forty-four years we’ve lived here. We have added some more though.
Their hardiness amazes me. Throughout time, many of my ornamental plants have succumbed to drought, to too much care or too little, but the grapevines produce faithfully year after year, no matter what weather comes our way. Standing in our arbor sends my mind back to my childhood and Grandma Nichols’ grapevine. On Sunday afternoons when the grapes were ripe, she’d greet us by running her fingers over our faces because her eyes had quit seeing by then. She’d then send us to the grape arbor to fill bags to take home with us. Paper or plastic was not an issue back then. It was paper or nothing.
After Mama and Daddy finished their conversation with the grownups, they’d help us finish filling our bags. On the drive home, we carefully held the bags of fragrant ripe grapes—white and black. My belly was also full by this point. I could never resist eating as I picked. Back at home, we’d put them into the refrigerator for after-school snacks. I liked them even better cold.
I don’t know the official name of the grape vines we have; I just know the fruit is delicious. They are not the big scuppernongs, just a smaller muscadine. Research tells me that these vines were here when the first settlers came, and that the Native Americans enjoyed them long before Europeans appeared. I know they’ve been around as long as I can remember. I remember my Grandpa Hayes taking me traipsing through the woods to gather wild grapes when I was four or five. I loved the grapes; I didn’t like the impetigo I got from the scratches on my legs or the trip to the doctor for it. Girls didn’t wear pants back then, not even for roaming the woods.
It never occurred to the child Mary Ann that there could be too many grapes. Now I wonder what to do with all of them. Some years I’ve made jelly with them. We’ve tried our hand at winemaking, but not very successfully I’m afraid. We may try again this year.
Saturday I was talking to my cousin Max.
“I’ve got loads of big muscadines,” he said. “Why don’t you come over and get you some?”
In the course of our conversation, he told me about Grandma making communion wine from the grapes she grew in her yard. My grandparents believed that Jesus turned water into wine, and if wine was good enough for Him, it was good for them and their church. So, Grandma made it.
As he explained to me how to do it, a marble or two started rattling around in my brain.
“You take a gallon jar and pick it full of black grapes. Leave just enough room for three cups of sugar at the top. Seal the jar tight and bury it six inches below the ground. Then forget about it for the next six to eight months. Don’t forget to flag the spot though, or you might forget where you buried it. At the proper time, dig it up, strain it, and you’ve got good sweet wine that’s not too alcoholic for most tastes. Try it. You’ll see.”
By George, I think I will. And I’ll bury the jar in the flower bed where Grandma’s Milk and Wine Lilies grow so prolifically every summer. Maybe I’ll have two or three flags over-wintering beneath the mulch of that bed. Along about May it should be ready.
I like the idea of family continuity. I’ve always been told I’m the spitting image of Grandma. I think she would be pleased to know we’re following in her footsteps, and I’m glad Max told me that story. He told it to Josh, my youngest son, yesterday too when we took him to eat Chinese food. It’s a bit of family history I never knew before this weekend.