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.