The Muscadine Man: Grape pie and more for simple man

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Robert Bolt’s title for a play, “A Man for All Seasons,” was borrowed from Robert Whittington’s description in 1520 of the Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More. The play portrayed More as a man of principle who ordinary people loved.

The literary reference describes a hero – a man who remains true to his beliefs despite pressure or influences. I’m reminded of my friend, Nathan Smith.

The season’s about to change – light, breezy fall winds chase summer’s heels. But Nathan doesn’t waver.

On these cool crisp mornings, he can be found tending his vineyard.

Recently, Nathan and I leisurely strolled through multiple rows of trellis entwined with twisted grapevines – plucking those tender sweet grapes straight from the vine. I was like a bird – eating and spitting discarded seeds and hulls as we walked.

Nathan grows 15 types of sweet muscadines –the South’s grape. Large clusters of plump, bronze, pink and red grapes hang from the vine to which they cling for life. I feel the same sense of peace that Nathan does– amongst a web of tangled vines.

While the gentleman farmer grows a variety of grapes, he’s one of a kind. He’s different from most folks.

Nathan credits his ways to his upbringing. As a youth – he was always in church. His parents were regular church-goers – every Sunday. As a result, Nathan’s not a man whose conscience and morals bend to prevailing attitudes or trends of the day. He remains faithful to his principles – his life is still much about the church.

“I don’t think my morals have changed – that keeps bothering me – trying to change the church bothers me.”

On earning perfect attendance pins, Nathan proudly shared, “They used to give a certificate, and then they started giving pins – I have 61 of those. I attend everything I can.”

Like grapes that cling to a vine – Nathan holds on to words found in his Bible. Throughout life, the book has served as his guide. He continues to enjoy teaching the Bible in Sunday school class, as he has for 65 years.

Nathan readily admits he’s been tempted throughout life’s more difficult seasons– everyone has been.

“Things like that happen every week – maybe every day. You’re always tempted with something or another,” he said.

But Nathan believes it’s essential to make wise decisions on our most challenging days – the winters of our lives.

“I have self–control. I just don’t believe some things are right. I believe in the Bible, and that’s what keeps me going. Some people don’t believe in the Bible – some parts they do, and some parts they don’t. We can’t just pick and choose what we want to believe.”

I’m reminded of scripture from Romans 12:2 that reads, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

Nathan’s been happily married to his bride, Peggy, for 41 years. He lovingly tends to her needs. He attributes marital contentment to being as much about looking the other way when things go wrong as getting along well – saying, “You have to ignore things a lot of times.”

Patience is a virtue.

In being a good man, Nathan benefited from a good role model – a strong father and husband to his mother. He gives credit to his daddy for helping mold the boy into the man he is today. Good boys grow up to become good men.

“Well, I was raised by a good daddy – and he taught me a lot of things. If I did something wrong, he would tell me about it. My dad never gave me a spanking or a whipping, but when he told me something, I knew that’s what I was supposed to do.”

Strong fathers are influential leaders in our households. When Nathan was a little boy, his father was in the fire department in Greensboro. Davie County was their home, but his daddy drove from here to there each day. Later, his father ran a Greek restaurant for a while – he was a good cook. In later years, he became a farmer, mason, and builder of barns. As a result of his father’s experiences, Nathan admitted, “I can do most any kind of work.”

Nathan’s father taught him many jobs – a strength that helped him in almost all his work experiences. “The first job I ever had that made any money, I worked for Will Reynolds, and Mr. Reynolds paid me 25 cents an hour – that was what I done. I helped him.”

At home, his mom and dad were both excellent cooks. His father was a hunter and a trapper. “We ate a lot of squirrels and rabbits.” Nathan’s momma was a homemaker – an important role while her husband was out working. She took care of their home and most of the cooking.

Born in Davie County in 1936, Nathan still considers himself a simple farm boy – even if he’s 86 years old. To him, being southern means collecting stuff – old stuff. “I’ve got all the toys I ever had when I was little except for a few my girls tore up. I’m different from everybody today. I don’t have a computer and don’t want one.”

Being counted on is important to Nathan. “If someone asks me to do something, if I can do it, I’ll do it. I try to help people all I can. I try to tell the truth – being reliable – it’s pretty hard for some people to do. Some people I deal with aren’t reliable, and some are really great. I like good people.”

Reflecting on his life, what makes Nathan the proudest are his young uns, his wife, and the good lives they’ve lived. On friends and neighbors, he shared, “I’m proud of my neighbors and friends. I have a lot of good friends who’ve helped me since I got old.”

Nathan believes living the good life is getting along with and helping other people – living a good Christian life the best he can.

Recently, someone bought 40 lbs. of grapes and paid Nathan twice what he charged. They said he didn’t charge enough – so they paid more. People recognize good people – and the Spirit recognizes Spirit.

Nathan gives sage advice on getting through life. “I try to avoid all these things coming up in the world today. You just don’t know what’s going to happen day to day– but just do the best you can do each day.”

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 (NIV)

As we walked and talked, I warned Nathan of difficult questions I might ask – a few he might have to think about. His grin gave away a subtle sense of humor. “Well, I haven’t had to think in a long time.”

Such is this quiet, precious, and humble man. He’s a hero in my book.

A man for all seasons.

NATHAN’S MUSCADINE PIE

1-quart muscadines

water

1 cup sugar

1 ½ Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/8th tsp salt

1/8th tsp. ground cinnamon

1 uncooked 9-inch pie shell

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

Remove pulp from muscadines and set aside. In a saucepan, boil hulls in enough water to cover for 30 minutes or until tender. In another saucepan, add pulp and sugar and cook 15 minutes. Mash through a sieve to remove seeds. Drain hulls and combine them with pulp. In a bowl, combine lemon juice, flour, and salt to form a paste. Add paste to pulp. Fold in cinnamon. Mix well. Pour into uncooked pastry shell. Cut another pastry into strips. Cross strips over top to form basket weave. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 325-degrees and bake until crust is browned. Brush top with butter and sprinkle large granule sugar evenly over top. Serve with whipped cream. (From All About Muscadines, etc. by William Ison)

MUSCADINE GRAPE CAKE

4 beaten eggs

1 Duncan Hines yellow cake mix

1 box instant vanilla pudding

1/3 cup melted, salted butter

1 ¼ cup hulled, seeded muscadine juice

Glaze

1 ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

¼ cup muscadine juice

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add yellow cake mix and pudding while alternating with butter and grape juice. Mix well. Bake in a well-greased and floured tube pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until tests done. Allow cake to cool only for a few minutes. For the glaze, in a saucepan, combine sugar with juice. Heat while stirring until smooth. While cake is still warm, makes holes in top, and evenly pour glaze over top.

FRUIT SALAD TOSS

14 oz. pineapple tidbits

2 Tbsp. reserved pineapple juice

2 beaten egg yolks

1 Tbsp. vinegar

1 Tbsp. sugar

Dash salt

1 cup fruit-flavored yogurt

16 oz. drained pear slices

11 oz. drained mandarin oranges

1 cup seeded, halved red grapes

½ cup pitted dates

½ cup flaked coconut

Drain pineapple and reserve 2 Tbsp. syrup. In a saucepan, combine reserved syrup, beaten egg yolks, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Cook while constantly stirring until thickened and coats a spoon. Allow to completely cool and stir in yogurt. In a bowl, combine pineapple pears, oranges, grapes, dates, and coconut. Gently fold in dressing until it thoroughly coats. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH GRAPES

4 cups cooked, chopped chicken

15 oz. drained pineapple tidbits

2 cups halved red grapes

11 oz. drained Mandarin oranges

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup toasted slivered almonds

½ cup premium mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, combine chopped chicken, drained pineapple, halved seedless grapes, drained oranges, and toasted almonds. Gently toss until mixed well. In a mixer bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Very gently fold mayo mixture into chicken and fruit mixture. Cover and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated.

SALAD OF GREEN GRAPES AND BROCCOLI

2 cups halved green grapes

1 lb. fresh broccoli florets

3 sliced stalks celery

8 cooked, crumbled slices bacon

Toasted slivered almonds

1 cup premium mayonnaise

½ cup sugar

1 tsp. white vinegar

In a bowl, combine grapes, broccoli, and celery. Gently mix well. In a mixer bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar, and vinegar. Gently fold mayonnaise mixture into fruit mixture and gently toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate covered for 4 hours. Before serving, sprinkle with bacon bits and toasted almonds. Keep refrigerated.