Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Florida Grapes in Hawthorne

September 10th, 2008 · 1 Comment

My parents retired from Fort Lauderdale to a few acres in a sleepy little town in north-central Florida called Hawthorne. It’s little more than a stop in the road (U.S. 301 at S.R. 20), but it’s full of charm and very nice people. It has a ton of pecan trees all around, there are peanut fields up and down 301, and plenty of other stuff growing all around. I’ll tell you about all the cabbage and potatoes around Palatka another day.

They bought their house and acreage from Uncle Marvin (of the Chocolate Milk story).  Dad brought in apple and pear trees, but Uncle Marvin had planted six very long rows of scuppernongs and bullises — muscadines: bronze-mottled thick-skin grapes and enormous black-purple globes that hung, this time of year, in such abundance, the hundreds that the raccoons got to every single night were but a drop in the bucket.

Golden Dixie muscadinesIt didn’t stop Dad from cursing the wily animals that would stand up on hind legs on top of the vines — they were like a thick, wood carpet — and eat till they nearly fell off. They ate them as we did: spitting out the seeds and tossing the tough skins. The ground would be thick with skins, slick if you happened to catch them just right with your foot in the dew-covered rows, in the morning.
Red muscadines

Red muscadines

We could pick five 5-gallon buckets full of these and still have an orchard of grapes left. Mom made a ton of jelly, and sent plenty of grapes home with Aunt Eleanor for her own jelly-making adventures. Aunt El eventually got a mossed off vine and planted it in her own garden in Pensacola, and had twice as many grapes as Dad — she was always the better grower of anything, but Dad was usually the first.

Dad once tried to make wine with the purple ones, but nearly blew up the utility room in the process. I have no idea how he did it, only that there were shards of glass behind everything in the room, and it stank for months of rotten grapes. It was the end of his wine-making career.

Grow Your Own

The muscadines that grow all around the South will grow here in tropical Florida. (We used to make a trip to what’s now called the Beeline Highway in the fall to pick them from the fences along the road leading to Lake Okeechobee — on our way to visit the dairies.)

I recommend the Dixie (bronze) variety that doesn’t require male-female plants. I had a ranchette in Lake Worth for some time, and had a vine there that gave me all I needed. They don’t require much, but should be properly pruned for best yield.

If you’re interested in growing grapes here, contact or get over to see the fine folks at the Palm Beach County Rare Fruit Council at the Mounts Horticulture building in West Palm Beach. And get my mom’s recipe for grape jelly here.

Tags: Old Florida

1 response so far ↓

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