Fall is rolling in like the tide, more and more each day. I’m not sure what it’s bringing with it or, more importantly, where it’s taking me. But there are some things I do know, that I can always know. The land is something you can count on. I know it’s bringing, somewhere in the deep deciduous, ruffled hen of the woods and spongy cèpes. I know it’s bringing gnarled pastel gourds and the vague nostalgia of smoke. And more of my beloved muscadines and scuppernongs for pies, jams, sauces, and for eating by the quart in one sitting.
They’re short seasoned, and I try to make the most of them while they’re around. I regret their passing as much as figs, tomatoes, and garlic scapes, and like most of my favorite produce, I start by eating them raw. I have to get my fill of pure unadulterated childhood backyard, thick skins popping in my mouth, fishing the seeds out with my tongue, and spitting them into a bowl. I chew the skin and pulp together, tart and sweet at once. Well there’s a life metaphor for you. With a bow on it. You’re welcome. Sometimes, I tongue the insides of the pulp, where seeds were; it’s almost leathery, in a good way. I’ve enjoyed that peculiar texture since I was a child.
Muscadine hull pie is an economic southern relic. You don’t find it around much anymore, and I’d never had it before I made it myself. But here it stands, dusted off, and ready for a new lease on life with the addition of rosewater and sage. The masculine muscadine, quintessentially cool weather sage, and feminine rose result in a pie that’s at once old and new, and even better, you end up with a beautiful muscadine rose sauce for topping any dessert you can think of, from panna cotta to crème brulee, ice cream to pavlova. Economical, yes.
They’re a wild, musky sort of grape, the muscadine. Thick skinned with a strong flavor, it’s a grape variety native to the South. The scuppernog (perhaps the best name of anything ever) is it’s greenish gold sister, and they can be used in any instance a muscadine is called for. Both muscadines and scuppernongs are heady, southern treasures that grow both wild and on backyard vines throughout the region, and they’re at their best in juices, pies, jams, and jellies.
Exciting things are afoot around here—various projects, pieces, and travels—I can’t wait to share every last thing! As some of you may know, I’m planning to open up a little pop up shop called Sweet Gum Co., tentatively slated for November 1st. It will feature southern made & found provisions for the home and kitchen—reclaimed wood bread boards & utensils by my friend & talented woodworker Joseph Heubscher, handmade ceramics by local artist Trish Riley, hand dyed linens from Camellia Fiber Co., vintage pieces, and so much more!
I’m also insanely honored (it really was, I admit, a dream come true!) to have been featured on Saveur’s Sites We Love, and I also did an interview for the beautiful blog Ayofemi, which you can find here along with rare photos of me behind the scenes & my work space (a.k.a. mah house). Lastly, I had the honor of writing and photographing Chattanooga’s own Niedlov’s Breadworks for the fall issue of Spenser Magazine, which is, cover to cover, all about Tennessee! You can also find beautiful photography of the iconic and inimitable Benton’s Country Ham by the wildly talented Hannah of Honey & Jam, a beautiful piece on Muddy Pond Sorghum, and an interview with James of the blog Bleubird in that issue—in short it’s not to be missed!
So sage smoke swirls in my bedroom, and I lie still with a fluorite crystal on my chest. Runes scatter, and I don’t know. Particles wave. And the season takes me to the only place time can take anyone: to new corners of myself. I’ll learn, for the hundredth time, that I don’t know myself. And for that, I’ll know myself better. For every situation, from the most resplendent to the most challenging, if you have eyes to see eventually time will take you to the why. So, don’t trouble yourself with the why. That will come. Be here. Hurt or laugh. Chew the tough, sour skins with the sweet, soft pulp. All in one bite. But don’t be scared. Eat pie, do good work, and breathe. It’s a much better game plan. I speak from experience.
I like to get as much as possible out of my muscadines. Hulls, pulp, juice and all. A lot of people spit the hulls out. Not me. I love their toothsome tart along with the juicy sweetness of the pulp. By adding some water to the hulls as they cook, this recipe also produces enough juice for a beautiful sage and rose infused muscadine sauce for topping everything from ice cream to cakes to panna cotta. Waste not want not, a fine southern tradition!
- 1 recipe buttermilk pastry crust
- 1 quart muscadines (scuppernogs work great too!)
- scant 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 1/4 cup minced fresh sage
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2-1 teaspoon rose water (to taste)
- 1 egg, for brushing
- raw sugar, for sprinkling
- Using a knife to slit and then by squeezing, separate hulls from pulp and remove the seeds, placing the pulps in one pan and the hulls in another.
- Bring the hulls to a low boil with the scant 1/2 cup of water and bring the pulps to a simmer.
- Cook both pulps and hulls for about 15 minutes. Hulls should be very tender.
- Stir 1/2 cup of sugar into the hulls to dissolve.
- Remove from heat, and add in the pulps, lemon zest, sage, pinch of salt, and rose water.
- Carefully pulse (it's hot!) in either a food processor or a blender. Don't puree, just get to a nice chunky consistency with no large pieces.
- Strain, reserving liquid in one bowl and solids in another.
- Set solids aside to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, whisk the 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in to about 2 tablespoons of the liquid, and then stir it into the rest of the reserved juices.
- Return sauce to the pot and simmer to thicken and cook out the raw cornstarch flavor.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the sauce to the solids, taste, and add 1/4 teaspoon more rosewater if desired.
- Store the rest of the sauce in a jar in the fridge for another use.
- Heat oven to 425°F.
- Remove your pastry dough from the fridge and roll out to about 1/8" thick on a well floured surface, rotating it as you roll to make sure it isn't sticking. Using a 3" biscuit cutter, cut out rounds and place on a parchment lined sheet tray. After they're all cut out, chill for ten minutes in the fridge.
- Fill a small cup with cold water. Remove rounds from the fridge and top half of them with a heaping teaspoon of the filling. Dip your finger in the water and wet the rim of the bottom round, place another round on top, pinch with your fingers to seal, and then go back around and seal a second time with the tines of a fork.
- Chill the assembled pies another ten minutes.
- Whisk the egg with a fork, and remove the pies from the fridge. Brush the tops of the pies lightly with the egg yolk using a pastry brush and sprinkle with the raw sugar. Using a sharp knife, poke 4 small slits in the top of each pie.
- Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F, and then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until golden.
- Remove and cool on racks. Best while fresh, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.