December 23, 2007

Ode to the Scuppernong

Cold weather finally forces me to bring vulnerable house plants indoors. They are the usual ferns, lilies, and philodendrons. There are this time, however, some seedlings that I grew from scuppernong seeds. Native to these parts, they would probably survive the winter. I just like looking at them and thinking of them bearing fruit one day.

The scuppernong is a delicately flavored grape peculiar to the southeast. I first became interested in them because of the sound of the name...scuppernong...scuppernong. It sounds to me like some far off Elizabethan fruit that one could write an ode to, as in "Gentle folk in joyful throngs come forth to taste the scuppernongs."

They are a rare delicacy indeed with an indelicate means of being consumed. The skin is rather bitter and the custom is to press the grape between your teeth and squirt the pulp into your mouth, spitting out the seeds. The taste is very subtle, like some fine ancient wine. And even though the taste is fleeting, it is worth the inconvenience of the thick skin and large seeds. It is a brief connection with something genuine, unhomogenized, and unhybridized. The partaking of scuppernongs makes one part of that unbroken line of tasters through early settlers and native Americans.

The grape itself is beautiful to behold. There is such a variety of shades of gold, green and bronze with slight speckling like something antique. So I composed a poem in sonnet form for my favorite South Carolina fruit. My "Ode to the Scuppernong" follows along with my painted homage to native grapes.

While at the farmers' market earlier this year, I came across a group of French tourists accompanied by a translator. Her group expressed curiosity about the scuppernongs I was buying. Both my enthusiastic reply and my poem were translated (briefer version) while the tourists enthusiastically piled the native grapes into their shopping bags. So this poem is also known as "Le Poem Du Scuppernong."


Gentlefolk in joyful throngs

Come forth to taste the scuppernongs

When Autumn season to market bring

The native grape fit for a king

Prithee scuppernong forsooth

Let parted lips partake thy fruit

My teeth upon thy hoary skin

Do press, and draw thy sweet flesh in

But lo! Beware thy bitter seeds

Lie as witch’s evil beads

Deep within thy fleshly pulp

Swallow quick! With fearless gulp!

Ah! Thy fruit so limpid green

Resplendent art thou muscadine!

When leaves their golden coats turn brown

Cold winds escort them gently down

And rounded fruits no longer sway

Upon thy limbs oh tree of Bay!

And bitter remains of fruit once grand

Lie moldering upon fruit stands

Then gentlefolk in weeping throngs

Will mourn the end of scuppernongs

Till summer’s end in one year hence

Will yield thy fruit in recompense

And gentle folk appear once more

To taste the fruit they so adore

And raise their voice in joyful song

In praise of thee, oh scuppernong

Scuppernong is a native American word, Algonquin to be exact.

1 comment:

harriett said...

Oh Janet - your poem is lovely like a dance!
And Native Americans have the most beautiful language, don't you think? ;)