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Darrell Huckaby - 10/02/09

I walked into my house the other night and, to my delight, our kitchen smelled just like fall. How, you might ask, does fall smell? I'm glad you want to know because I am about to tell you.

Fall smells like a lot of things, of course. It smells like leaves burning in the back yard once the burning ban has been lifted. It also smells like sweet potato pie freshly out of the oven and it smells like a delightful combination of sweet onions and peppers and vinegar simmering on the stove in anticipation of being made into pear relish.

On this particular occasion, however, our kitchen smelled like none of the above. When I opened my back door this time I was met by the sweetest fragrance this side of heaven - that of scuppernongs simmering over low heat. My lovely wife, Lisa, was making jelly.

Now a lot of folks who aren't from around here might turn up their collective noses at the notion of making jelly and wine and other delectables from something as common as a scuppernong. And, quite frankly, a lot of folks don't know the difference between a scuppernong ("scup'nins" we used to call them) and a muscadine. The folks who programmed the spell check on my computer would probably fall into that category because, according to them, "muscadine" is not even a word.

Well, luckily for you I am willing to educate the most ignorant among us on all things Southern, and you can bet your last Confederate dollar that there is such a thing as a muscadine.

As you have probably already gathered, since we have been talking about making wine and jelly and such, scuppernongs and muscadines are both members of the grape family. For one thing, they all grow on vines, and they all have a semi-tough outer skin and a sweet pulp.

But muscadines are generally smaller and, some say, sweeter and are a deep purple color when fully ripe. Scuppernongs are larger and are generally a bronze color - and while grapes grow in tight bunches, scuppernongs and muscadines grow in very loose and widely scattered clusters.

And when you pick scuppernongs the week after the worst flooding in the history of the North Georgia Piedmont you are very likely to step in a fire ant bed, which is what happened to me this week, but that's another story for another day.

Muscadines and scuppernongs both predate European exploration in the American South. The earliest English explorers wrote about them in their journals, and the early colonists turned them into wine. But at our house, we just make jelly out of them.

I don't know how many jars of the succulent nectar Lisa has put up so far - that's what we Southerners do, you know, we "put up" food in the fall - but I know we have enough to share and enough to spread on our morning toast and an occasional cathead biscuit, so the end result will be worth any irritation caused by the ant bites incurred while gathering the fruit.

Hopefully our canning binge won't end when the last of the scuppernongs are gone. Our pear trees are laden down this year, so hopefully I will have plenty of the aforementioned pear relish this winter. In case you aren't familiar, pear relish is simply scrumptious when eaten with peas or dried butterbeans and these days is harder to come by than an atheist at a tent revival. Peach season has come and gone without us preparing so much as one peach pickle, and if Sunshine still sells them the stores I frequent do not stock them, so a pantry well stocked with pear relish will be of some consolation.

Hopefully we will have a good apple crop this year, too. Lisa makes some of the best apple butter you have ever tasted, but she has to be in just the right mood to make it - and the older Lisa gets the harder it is to get her in the right mood. I suppose a person has just so many batches of apple butter in them, and I am afraid that she has used up most of hers.

You know what else I like for her to do with apples? I like for her to dry them. You haven't lived until you've had one of her fried apple pies on a cold winter day.

Holy cow I am making myself hungry! If I want to have a chance to enjoy these good foods all winter I had better keep Lisa happy, and she says that if I want her to keep the kitchen smelling good I have to keep the bathroom smelling good - and to her that means using plenty of Clorox when I scrub the bathtub and toilet.

The things we do for love. Y'all come. We'll spread some scup'nin jelly on a hot biscuit!

Darrell Huckaby