I was food shopping in a small market in Hinesburg, VT yesterday when I spied beautiful bunches of Concord grapes nestled among the more ordinary produce. I immediately flashed to my childhood, when I was at a friend's house and she offered me a slice of grape pie, freshly made by her mother. I had never heard of such a thing and was curious to try it. Even though I had never been a fan of grape jelly, or grape juice, or grape-flavored anything, I was impressed by the fact that my friend's mother had picked these grapes in the wild. Once I tasted her pie I developed a new appreciation for the Concord grape, in all its foxiness.
Years later, I went away to boarding school, and my friend came to visit one weekend bearing a gift from her mother: a grape pie. I was touched then, and even more touched now that I understand the effort that goes into making one.
The last I heard, my friend's mother, whom I knew as Mrs. Jones, was in a nursing home and suffering from late-stage Alzheimer's. Although I understand she is at a point where she is unable to recognize her children, I like to think if I visited her, bearing the gift of a grape pie, it might elicit at least a twinge of a memory: of autumn days, of foraging for fruit, of the pies she made from scratch to feed her twelve children.
I'm trying my hand at a Concord grape pie, for you, Mrs. Jones.
After much research online, I decided to go with a recipe by Rebecca Beaton posted on Martha Stewart's website (http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/concord-grape-pie) mostly because it uses cornstarch as a thickener rather than tapioca, which I didn't have.
The ingredient list for the pie filling couldn't be simpler: grapes, sugar and cornstarch. The only labor intensive component of the recipe is peeling the grapes, although even that is easier than it sounds. (The skins slip right off when you pinch the grapes between your fingers.) Once the pulp is separated from the skins, it is heated briefly in a saucepan until it breaks down into a rough puree which is then strained to remove the seeds. The seedless pulp is then reunited with the skins, which have been reserved, and the mix is refrigerated for two hours or more.
Then you simply stir in the sugar and cornstarch and pour the filling into an uncooked pie shell. Cover the filling with whatever top crust style you prefer (lattice, regular, cut-outs), brush with an egg wash and bake. (I didn't have any eggs so I brushed the top with a little half and half.)
The one tip I must share for anyone who follows this recipe: when it says to let the pie cool overnight, it's not kidding. I was impatient and cut into it after a couple of hours to find it very sloppy and loose. The next day, it had congealed to the perfect consistency: holding together but not gummy.
This is a really tasty pie! It's perfectly sweetened and packs a powerful grape punch. I couldn't resist eating some for breakfast.
Addendum: If you're thinking this post looks different from the one in your memory, you're right! It's now September 25, 2011 and I'm back to making Concord grape pies! I got better shots of it this time, so I switched them out. Thanks for checking back in; hope you're ready to make a pie this year.