9.01.2010

Scupper What?


On a highway pit stop down in eastern North Carolina to pick up some of the best barbecue on earth (that'd be Wilbur's), I spied a roadside stand loaded down with baseball-sized peaches, shiny red tomatoes and, to my great delight, wooden baskets piled high with scuppernongs.

Scupper what, you ask? If you haven't had the pleasure of acquainting yourself with the honey-sweet grape variety native to the Southeast, allow me to introduce you.

The bronze or green fruit, larger than a typical grape, has a tough skin that you bite open to release the fragrant jelly-like orb and its sugary juices inside. The odd name reportedly comes from a river in North Carolina. Down South, scuppernongs and their muscadine cousins are typically turned into sweet wine or jam. That is, if they're not eaten straight off the vine.

I remember there being a twisty, rambling scuppernong vine clinging to an old fence in a neighbor's backyard when I was little. I'd pop a fruit into my mouth whenever I spotted a ripe one.

I hadn't seen a scuppernong in years until I bought a big bag from the nice folks at that roadside stand. But when I got back to DC, lo and behold, there they were in the produce section at the Whole Foods on P Street. (Get 'em before they're gone!)

They're best enjoyed as a snack, cold from the fridge, but I couldn't resist seeing how they'd fit into a cocktail. The result of my experiment was good enough to share.

Scuppernong Crush
makes 1 drink

12 scuppernongs
1.5 oz gin
1.5 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
crushed ice
club soda

Over a cocktail shaker (or rocks glass), remove the skins of the scuppernongs, careful to catch all the juices. Muddle the fruit well. (You could pick out the seeds at this point or be lazy like me and just drink around them!) Add gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and crushed ice, and shake or stir well to combine. Pour into a rocks glass, top off with a splash of club soda, stir and sip.

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