Confession: I ate a grape from the farmers market this week.
And truth be told, it sent me into a tailspin. I’d been living a lie. My entire life, wasting my time eating store-bought grapes with their tough skins and their chalky aftertaste and their mild, some might say, boring flavor. How did I not know that grapes should be better than that? That they should be sweet and tart and juicy and a little slimy, but such a good kind of slimy that you don’t want to stop eating them ever!
It only took one tiny from-the-farm grape to change my life.
Which of course set me on a mission to discover what I could do with these gorgeous creatures. And I discovered that you can do quite a bit with them, actually. I also discovered that now, right now, is the height of the grape season (grapes have seasons?) in the northeast, so these are the best of the best.
And what do you do with the best of the best? Well, you bake a pie, naturally. Apparently this is also a thing in New York. The Concord Grape Pie Queen, Miss Irene Bouchard, lives about 300 miles northwest of New York City in the town of Naples, and she’s been baking grape pies since the dawn of time (or the early ‘70s, but I’m going for high drama today). I’m not sure how she got that title or why, but I like to think she relishes it, baking pies in her purple house, wearing her purple dresses, living that purple life. You know.
The recipe below is adapted from her original recipe via Saveur magazine, using my own crust recipe since I love it so very much.
Are you ready? OK, let’s do this.
Concord Grape Pie
For the Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, chilled
½ cup shortening, chilled
½ cup ice water
For the Filling
2 pounds concord grapes
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
Let’s focus on the filling first. Your grapes have seeds in them, which would not be delicious in a pie, so you need to remove the seeds from the grapes before you make the pie filling. You’ll be performing ‘grape surgery’ of sorts, which sounds very strange, but I promise it’s incredibly straightforward and easy. Grab two medium-large bowls and your grapes (which should be washed clean and dry at this point) and set yourself up at the kitchen table. Take a grape between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze lightly. The green inside of the grape should loosen easily from the skin; plop it into one of the bowls and throw the skin in the other bowl. Grab another grape, squeeze out the insides into one bowl, throw the skin in the other bowl. You get the idea. Keep doing this until you’ve separated all of your grapes, discarding any that are overly soft or brown. In the end you should have one bowl full of green insides and one bowl full of skins, like zees:
Set the bowl of grape skins aside and grab your bowl of grape insides. Empty the grape insides into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The grape pulp will start to bubble and foam a bit, and you will start to see the seeds separate from the pulp.
When the grape pulp is fully cooked, pour it into a fine mesh strainer over the bowl of grape skins, and taking a large spoon or spatula, push the pulp through the strainer into the bowl with the skins. You’ll be left with a strainer full of seeds, which you can discard.
Stir the grape skins and strained pulp to combine, add the tapioca and the sugar, and stir again. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and stick in the refrigerator to cool.
Now to the crust! you know how I feel about homemade pastry crust (in that I AM A BELIEVER), and you’ve heard me say it before that the key to a beautiful flaky crust is keep your wet ingredients (butter, shortening, water) as cold as possible throughout the process.
Grab a large bowl and add the flour, sugar and salt and stir to combine. Add your chilled shortening and butter, and using a pastry cutter or two forks (but NOT your hands), mix the butter/shortening into the dry ingredients until you get something resembling coarse meal. You should still have pea-sized bits of butter; that’s where the magic happens. Add the ice water and mix until the dough just starts to come together. Split the dough in two, one ball slightly larger than the other, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
During my rest time, I watched two episodes of ER, which I haven’t watched since it was originally on TV twenty years ago and, boy, am I hooked. Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross forever, y’all.
OK, back to baking, she says reluctantly. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
When your dough and filling are properly chilled, take one of the balls of dough out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Lightly flour your counter top and your rolling pin, then using smooth motions in one direction, roll your dough out to a 12-inch circle. Roll the dough up on your rolling pin and transport to your pie dish; unroll and situate so it is centered over the dish. You will have some dough hanging over the edge, but don’t worry, we’ll deal with that later. Take your filling out and remove the plastic wrap, pouring your filling evenly into the pie crust.
Now, take your second ball of dough, and as you did with the first, roll it out to a 12-inch circle. You can do a couple of different things at this point: you could do a simple top crust, a lattice crust (which I chose), or you could get all Martha Stewart fancy on it and make some artwork with your dough.
For a simple crust: cut a 1-inch hole in the center of your dough and lay the dough over the pie.
For a lattice crust: cut your dough into 1-inch strips, ten strips in total. Lay five strips vertically on top of the pie in equal intervals, then pull back the second and fourth strip. Lay one strip horizontally over the three remaining strips on the side of the pie closest to you. Replace the second and fourth strips and pull back the first, third, and fifth strips to the strip you just put down. Lay down a second strip horizontally, then replace the first, third and fifth strips. Alternate pulling the second/fourth and first/third/fifth strips until all of the remaining strips are placed on the pie. This video helps if the above is confusing.
For a fancy-schmancy crust: use cookie cutters of your choosing to make pretty shapes from the second piece of dough and transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate. When the pie comes out of the oven, adjust the temperature to 450 degrees and bake dough shapes for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool. When pie is cool and ready to be served, place shapes on top in a decorative fashion.
Trim the edges of your pie dough with a knife so it’s just beyond the edge of your pie dish. Folding over the trimmed edge, crimp the dough with your fingers all the way around your pie.
Place on the middle rack of your oven, and bake for twenty minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 45-50 minutes until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
Remove from oven and cool.
This pie packs a wallop of flavor and is best accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some freshly whipped cream. It’s grapes like you’ve never tasted them before — fresh, bright, tart and sweet at the same time. You’ll never go back to store-bought grapes again. I know I surely won’t.