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Muscadine Grapes are Sweet Southern Treasures

T.Y. Baker III (T.Y.) spent his childhood summers working in his grandfather’s tobacco fields and eating muscadines from the vines that grew on the arbor behind the old farmhouse in Zebulon, North Carolina. One-by-one he would pluck the muscadines from the vine, hold the grape to his lip, squeeze the sweet pulp into his mouth, and toss the grape’s skin to the ground. Unbeknownst to young T.Y., he would one day establish Moccasin Creek Vineyards, one of two certified organic muscadine grape vineyards in North Carolina.

Left Photo: Thomas Yates Baker III (T.Y.) and his son Thomas Yates Baker IV (Yates), who helps operate the vineyard, stand among the vines of the Nesbitt muscadine variety. Right Photo: The original farmhouse on T.Y. ‘s muscadine vineyard was originally built by his ancestors in 1760.

After a long career as an exporter of frozen fruits and vegetables, T.Y. decided to spend his retirement farming the land of loamy soil that was settled by his ancestors in 1760. Since muscadines thrive in North Carolina’s hot, humid weather, and tobacco was no longer an economically viable option, T.Y. focused his efforts on growing over 7 acres of three muscadine varieties: Supreme, Nesbitt, and Triumph

Besides being a fond memory for T.Y. and the official fruit of North Carolina, what makes the muscadine grape so unique that he would decide to spend his retirement years owning and operating his own vineyard?

Tough On the Outside, Sweet On the Inside.

T.Y. shows Happy Dirt’s Hannah Taylor one of his Supreme muscadine vines in early August.

The mighty muscadine grape is large, round, and has a thick, fleshy skin. Unlike the grapes you’re accustomed to adding to your fruit salads and kids’ lunch boxes, muscadine grapes are sweeter and contain seeds. The entire grape is edible, but most people, including T.Y., prefer to eat the muscadine’s pulp. 

“Find the stem scar on the grape, hold it to your lips, and point it toward the back of your throat,” says T.Y.  “You’re going to pop it in your teeth. You’re going to suck out the inside, and you’re going to swallow. You’re not going to chew. And, you’re left with the skin.”

If you want to balance the sweetness of the muscadine and add some texture to its juicy pulp, go ahead and chew the whole grape. The muscadine’s pulp, seeds, and skin are packed with powerful antioxidants that your body will appreciate.

With Sweetness Comes Health

Left Photo: A cluster of Supreme muscadines. The Supreme muscadine’s skin is almost black in color when ripe. Right Photo: A cluster of Triumph muscadines that have a pinkish hue when ripe. T.Y. planted his Triumph muscadine vines in the same field as his Supreme muscadine vines, as Supreme muscadines do not self-pollinate.

Muscadines are more than just a sweet taste of nostalgia for Southerners. The sweet, seed-filled grape is a powerhouse filled with antioxidants, so much so that an anonymous donor gave Wake Forest School of Medicine $20 million in 2015 to research muscadine extract and its cancer-fighting (specifically breast and prostate cancer) properties. And in 2020, N.C. State University found that a chemical compound in muscadine grape skins and seeds could block the function of an enzyme in the SARS-CoV-2 virus – more reason to eat the entire grape or a pound of muscadines like N.C. State’s small fruits extension specialist Dr. Mark Hoffman.

To Eat or To Drink

T.Y. sits in his office, proudly wearing a Happy Dirt hat while telling the team about the health benefits of muscadines.

Like any fruit, there are many ways to enjoy muscadine grapes. T.Y. makes muscadine juice and jelly. He enjoys a glass of his muscadine juice every morning, adding water to cut the juice’s sweetness. In the South you’ll find muscadine wine, which is very, you guessed it, sweet. Usual Wines recommends drinking muscadine wine with Southern comfort foods. If you’re a morning-smoothie person, give a muscadine smoothie a try. If you always save room for dessert, skip pumpkin pie this fall and try a muscadine grape hull pie.

How to Buy Muscadines

Muscadine season lasts from August to early October in North Carolina. At Happy Dirt, we are proud to work with muscadine vineyards like Moccasin Creek Vineyards. If you are interested in learning how you can purchase muscadine grapes for your customers, fill out the contact form on our website. You can also visit Moccasin Creek Vineyards to learn more about T.Y. and his muscadines, while you pick your own from the vines.

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