Twenty years ago, Tony Cushenberry had dreams of managing his own riesling vineyard on his sprawling Oconee County property, but a crippling disease wiped it out after only a handful of homemade bottles of wine.
“I needed to get rid of (the riesling grapes) and start over,” Cushenberry said. “No matter how much I took care of them, they had a terminal disease neither I or anyone at the extension services could do about it. It was a loosing battle because there just wasn't anything to cure it.”
That's when Cushenberry re-discovered the scuppernong, a variety of native southern white grape from the muscadine family, which early settlers found growing in the wild. Today, Cushenberry has a football field-sized vineyard off Kirkland Road, called Crusher's, which produces about 4 tons of the copper-green grape in six different varities, he said.
“I just struck out and (the vineyard) became a scupernong vineyard,” Cushenberry said.
He invites locals to call ahead and pick from the vineyard when the grapes are in season – usually only three weeks toward the later part of the summer. This Saturday and next Saturday, Cushenberry will have a stand at the Oconee County Farmers Market, where he will sell the large grape for $3 a quart.
Scuppernong's aren't like any grape found in a grocery store. They grow individually – not in clusters – on the vine, and typically grow much larger. Some grapes can be as small as a dime, while others as large as a lemon, Cushenberry said.
When most people eat the grape, they simply suck out the juices inside, and spit away the inner seeds and the fruit's outer hull, Cushenberry said.
“You'll get a mouthful of really sweet juice,” Cushenberry said. "There's so much good stuff in there if you get the seeds and the hull, it's really good for you, but most people will spit out the hull and work the seeds out.”
Some people also buy the grapes and make them into jam or ferment them into wine, he said. Several cooking blogs and websites also contain recipes for making scuppernong cakes and pies.
To reach Tony Cushenberry and schedule an opportunity to pick scuppernongs call: 706-769-7868 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Oconee Farmers Marketis open every Saturday through October from 8 a.m. until around noon on the back lawn of the . This week will feature the second bountiful harvest of the scuppernong, or southern white grape. The locally grown fruit will be in season the next week as well.
Here is a list of some other items that will be available this week:
- Grass-fed Serepol beef
- Pound Cakes
- Pies (Pecan, peach, sweet potato, apple, chess, pear and scuppernong)
- Bananna Bread
- Dog biscuits
- Boiled and fried peanuts
- Pork skins
- Beef jerky
- Local wildflower and sourwood honey
- Lip balm
- Shea butter products