arkansas muscadines

Muscadines in Arkansas – Like a grape but not really

Muscadines are a favorite treat in Arkansas for jams, jellies, wine or just late summer snacks.

When I was a child, my grandparents grew muscadines on a large trellis in their backyard. I waited impatiently for them to ripen each year and, often, I would sneak one or two that weren’t ripe yet.

If you want to try something bitter, grab an unripe muscadine!

However, the true magic lies inside a ripe muscadine. They have a sweetness and flavor that everyone should experience.

My grandparents’ vines grew on an arched trellis that had benches underneath. It felt like a magical place. When the muscadines were ripe, we would pick handfuls and sit on the benches to eat them.

black Arkansas muscadines
Arkansas muscadines are beautiful fruits! Photo by Vickie Gray

I would stand barefooted in the soft grass, hunting under and behind the leaves to find where the nearly black muscadines would be hiding.

Their trellis was located in the back corner of their backyard. It was back behind their above ground swimming pool so it truly felt like a secret place. However, the truth was that it was located in a suburban backyard that sat right next to Hwy. 107 in central Arkansas. The fire station was right across the street. Often, the fire truck would take off with sirens blowing and ruin the entire ambiance.

But, we kept eating. Muscadines are addicting.

It reminds me of the Pringles slogan from back then, “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” I don’t know if that’s still the Pringles slogan or not. I quit poppin’ Pringles years ago.

Even though Arkansas muscadines are addicting, they can be quite unusual for folks who have never eaten them before. Muscadines have a thick skin that is much different than a grape. The skin is sweet and chewy. Once you bite down, the delicious juice and pulp bursts and rainbows shoot from your lips.

More or less.

Muscadines growing in Arkansas
Photo by Jeff Gray

Some people spit out the skins but I have always thought that the skins are so wonderful. I have even been known to swallow the seeds too. Why not? I haven’t grown a muscadine vine in my stomach yet even though my sister assured that I would.

*Note: Southern children usually call them “musky-dimes.” Or…at least I did. But, I could be a special case.

“Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) are grapes native to Arkansas and other parts of the southeastern United States. The grapes have thick skins, large seeds, and a unique, soft, musky-flavored pulp. Cultivars can vary in color from almost white to nearly black.”source

Muscadines are widely grown in Arkansas for commercial juice and wine production. Arkansas wineries like Post Familie Winery and Wiederkehr Wine Cellars in the Ozark Mountains both produce Arkansas muscadine wine.

Besides wine making, muscadines make great jam! My mom even won a blue ribbon at the county fair for her fabulous muscadine jam. It’s so good that my daughter calls it “jamboree.”

My husband and I planted muscadine vines at one of the first homes we bought. For several years, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. However, we sold that house in the Little Rock suburbs to build our dream house in the woods of Arkansas. We didn’t get to stick around to see the plants reach their full potential.

Photo by Jeff Gray

Now, my off-green thumb has officially turned black and it would be unfair to plant muscadine vines here. It would be a slow death for them just like those tiny pine trees I planted. I have even read Gardening for Dummies and it still hasn’t helped my black thumb.

Thankfully, muscadines grow wild in many parts of Arkansas! Wild muscadines are a delicous treat.

They can sometimes be found along the roads or growing up the trees in the Ouachita National Forest. Many people also find them growing along barbed wire fence rows on their land.

Arkansas muscadine vines growing on a farm
Arkansas muscadine vines growing on a farm. Photo by Vickie Gray

But, keep in mind, if you’re in the national forest, you may only collect berries for personal use.

“Several forest products may be gathered without a permit in small quantities and for personal use only
A permit is required to gather or collect any forest product in bulk or for commercial purposes.”

By the way, there is lots of FREE Camping in Arkansas and some of it is in the Ouachita National Forest!

Here in Arkansas, Muscadines aren’t just a favorite treat among barefoot children, home jam makers, and wine connoisseurs, they are also a favorite snack for our local raccoons, deer, squirrels and coyotes.

So, I hope when the muscadines begin ripening between September and October, you will find time to go hunting for them or, at least, pick up a jar of homemade muscadine jam from a talented neighbor.

You will also like: 4 [BEAUTIFUL] Hiking Trails in the Ouachita Mountains.

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