by David Cecelski
I put up 5 quarts of muscadine grape-hull preserves yesterday. My daughter and I picked the grapes from a vine that my grandfather planted in the 1930s. I picked on the side of the arbor near the chicken coop, she picked on the side near the barn. She sang while she worked and we soon filled two big bowls with the heavy, dark grapes.
While my daughter packed for college, I washed the grapes, removed the stems, and chased off a few straggling spiders and daddy long-legs. Then I separated the hulls and the pulp. Muscadines have a thick hull, but you just pinch the grapes and the pulp and the seeds pop out. I put the hulls in one bowl, the pulp and seeds in another. It’s a tedious job, but once I found my rhythm it was as soothing as shelling butterbeans or shucking corn.
When I was done, I put the pulp and seeds in a pot and brought them to a boil. After a few minutes, I turned off the heat, let them cool for 10 or 15 minutes, then ran the pulp through a strainer to remove the seeds. I combined the hulls and pulp in a pot. I stirred in a cupful of sugar for every cup of grapes and brought that mixture to a boil. Finally, I poured the hot preserves into sterilized jars and sealed them, the muscadines, their syrup and the memory of my daughter’s singing.