The raiding of my friend Sarah’s backyard continues. I’m becoming convinced she has every fruit under the sun at her disposal. In addition to the orange and plum and peach trees (and apple and pear trees to come later in the fall), she also has a Concord grapevine in a corner of her backyard. Its a slightly sullen-looking thing, all wrapped around itself in a mound in the middle of a scrubby patch. But the grapes it gives out are incredible.
Before I ate grapes in Sarah’s backyard, I’d only ever tasted Concord grapes in jelly and juice. The actual grapes taste a bit like childhood, in that way: rich, round, dark grape flavor, as intense as any grape you’ll ever eat. But they’re not really ideal table grapes, since they have a thick, loose skin and substantial seeds that make you pause to crunch or swallow them. Fortunately, one of our friends tipped me off to Concord grape pie, something I’d never heard of before. Of course I had to try it.
I’ll warn you, this is a labor-intensive project. The grapes have to be gently pinched out of their skins, then cooked into a pulp to release the seeds inside, then strained back in with the skins. The whole process wasn’t difficult–especially since our grapes were so ripe, the skins had already split and started to come off by themselves. It was also fun to stand at the stove with a small cauldron of naked green grapes, all translucent and fleshy and rather like alien’s eggs, stirring them until they collapsed into goo. I also made the process a little more complicated by attempting my first-ever lattice top (as you’ll see in the photo, I need practice).
My goal was to make sure the filling tasted like grape, not jelly. I kept the sugar at a minimum, and added a touch of orange and nutmeg to make the whole thing a little more grown-up. Judging by the audience reactions, I think I made the right decision.
This is the kind of pie that just looks exciting coming out of the oven: thick purple juices bubbling wickedly through the crust, staining the edges of the lattice a pretty wine color. The interior tasted like grape–good old-fashioned childhood grape–but a little more adult, with sweet orange and spicy nutmeg and only a hint of sugariness. The grape skins add a slight raisiny texture here and there, and of course contribute to the remarkable color. I sliced into this warm, which was a mistake; it needs to cool completely so that the filling can really set into the wonderful loose-jelly consistency you want. But once it’s cooled, all bets are off. This is one delicious pie.
Concord Grape Pie (makes one 9-inch pie)
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Note: Because I was using extremely ripe grapes for this, I kept the sugar at a minimum. If your grapes are less ripe/more tart, or you prefer a sweeter pie, increase the sugar to 1/3 cup. You could also skip the top crust and make this an open-faced pie, if you want, or make a crumble topping instead of the lattice.
2 Rye Pie Crusts (or your favorite pie crusts), refrigerated for at least 1 hour
8 cups stemmed Concord grapes, washed
1/4 cup granulated sugar (see note)
5 tsp cornstarch
Zest of half an orange (about 1 tbsp)
1/4 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 large egg, thoroughly beaten with a pinch of salt
Remove the pie crusts from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes, until it’s soft enough to roll. While it’s resting, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
On a lightly floured surface, roll one crust into a round about 12 inches across and 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the rolled dough to the pie pan, leaving about 1/2 inch of overhang. Meanwhile, roll the other crust into a rough rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to the lined baking sheet. Refrigerate both crusts for at least 30 minutes.
While the crusts refrigerate, gently squeeze the grapes out of their skins. Reserve the skins in a large mixing bowl. Transfer the peeled grapes to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 6-7 minutes, or until the grapes have broken down into pulp and the seeds are loose from the flesh. Set a fine mesh strainer over the bowl with the grape skins, and press the grape pulp through the strainer with the back of a ladle. Discard the seeds and solids left in the strainer. Let the mixture cool completely, then mix in sugar, cornstarch, orange zest, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 425º F, and place a rack in the middle position. Remove the pie crusts from the fridge. Transfer the rectangular crust to a cutting board and use a large knife or pizza cutter to cut it into 8-10 strips (about 3/4 inch to an inch wide). Place the pie pan in the center of the lined baking sheet. Pour the filling into the bottom crust, and gently shake the pan from side to side to even it out. Weave the strips into a lattice on top of the pie (excellent photo tutorials of different methods here and here). Trim any excess from the strips, then fold over the overhanging bottom crust to bind the edges of the lattice. Flute the edge of the crust, if desired. Brush the crust all over with the egg wash.
Transfer the pie, on the baking sheet, to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375º F and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and transfer the pie pan to a cooling rack. Let the pie cool completely (at least 2 hours) before slicing and serving.