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Muscadines' Magic Returns as Centennial Olympics End

It's a magical blend of Deep South charm and rich history with today's vigor and tomorrow's promise. It's not the Olympic Games. But it will arrive before the luckiest Olympic guests have to leave for their homes.

It's muscadine time.

"The first south Georgia muscadines should be ripe the first of August," said Gerard Krewer, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

These lusty grapes are a true treat of the Old South. Native Americans relished them long before Europeans came and called the place Georgia. Early settlers, unable to get their own European grapes to grow, began cultivating muscadines and soon learned to love their mellow sweetness.

Time and painstaking study have only improved nature's favor, Krewer said. Today's best muscadines are bigger than a quarter and sinfully sweet.

Georgia has 1,000 acres of commercial muscadine vineyards, most for fresh-market grapes. Krewer figures at least twice that many grow in the state's backyards.

They come in a kaleidoscope of colors, he said, from red to bronze to purple to black. Among the bronze, Fry, Summit and Tara are prized as fresh fruit. Scuppernong and Carlos are noted for their fine dessert wines. Many others are wonderful in wines, jellies and syrups. Olympic visitors were able to buy muscadine cider and preserves.

And you know what really tops it all? They're health food. The more scientists explore them, the more good things they find in them.

Krewer cites a number of studies by Mississippi State researcher Betty Ector. The latest, published this year, shows muscadines contain resveratrol, a substance believed to help prevent heart disease.

Earlier studies show them high in fiber, iron, calcium, manganese and zinc.

"Some people even claim muscadines are an aphrodisiac," Krewer said with a wink. "But there haven't been any scientific studies on that effect that I know of."

Muscadines grow well throughout Georgia except in the high mountains. They're best planted in the dormant season. County Extension Service agents can tell you how to grow them.

Muscadines' arrival this year will mark the coming and going of the Summer Olympics. But it's nothing new. For centuries they've signaled the winding down of summer and the coming of fall.

"Before the last muscadine is ripe, the frost will be on the pumpkin," Krewer said. "These grapes are one of the great treats of life in the Deep South. Never has something so good for you tasted so good."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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