Growing up, I visited my grandparents’ cedar tree farm frequently. They lived right over on the other side of the Tar River, what had become the “bad side” of town. I would have never known it, though. Their house had rows of cedar trees to run down, horses, a rope swing, pecan trees, and scuppernong vines.
This was all exotic compared to my suburban world only fifteen minutes away. And that sensory-rich farm means there are some smells and tastes that just mean Mama Cille, my grandmother, and Daddy Rip, my grandfather.
Food is so often the fast-track to my memories. And in August and September, we’ve been ordering scuppernongs through our local CSA. It’s hard to explain the delight I feel just looking at these shiny grapes, and I can almost taste the sun when I squirt one into my mouth. The eating of a scuppernong is not like a regular grape. You must squeeze the outside of the grape just enough to explode the innards into your mouth, no chewing either, just squeeze, taste, and swallow. Then you throw the “shell” of the grape away or chew on it and then spit it out. It’s a lot like eating an oyster, which was another process that’s considered a rite of passage in my family.
Mama Cille would pick the scuppernongs right off her vine and offer up a ripe one to me. It took several tries for me to get up the courage to squeeze that grape into my mouth. There’s a certain trust it takes to eat a food like that. But there’s also a satisfaction that comes with it. It took several more tries to get the technique right, but I learned.
So today when I opened up the carton to these beautiful spheres of purple and pinched them just enough to pop the skin and taste the sweet juice, it brought back vivid images of Mama Cille walking around her back yard with Sara, the German shepherd, behind her, and my cousin and I not far behind, wondering what she might feed us next, excited and a little scared of the unknown.