How I do love weird pies! Of course, it seems that almost any pie that’s not apple, peach, cherry, blueberry, or cafeteria-style chocolate cream is “out of the ordinary.” Considering all the wonderful possibilities, the sameness is kind of sad.
Tonight I’m reflecting on the good ol’ Concord grape pie, which you rarely see. At least, not around here. I had never heard of grape pie until about 1988, which is when I made—and tasted—my first-ever Concord grape pie.
The occasion was that I was dating someone whose mother used to make grape pies, back in the forties and fifties. Mrs. S had made her legendary grape pies in a tiny town in northwestern Ohio, and I came to suspect that grape pies must simply be more common in northern Ohio, where folks grow more Concords than we do. That, or maybe women were more willing to "peel grapes" back then.
So after hearing my paramour glorify the exquisite joys of Concord grape pie, I decided I needed to learn to make it. I phoned Mrs. S up in Ohio for instructions, and I could almost hear her shrugging: “Well, you know . . . you just slip the skins off the grapes and get the seeds out, then add some sugar and flour, or tapioca, or cornstarch—whatever—Oh! and add some nutmeg, too.” Aha! Nutmeg’s the secret ingredient. (Many recipes suggest lemon juice and/or grated lemon peel, too.)
Wow, I remember that phone conversation so well! But it was long ago; Mrs. S has been gone nearly twenty years. Times change.
But during that time with my pie-hungry flame, I got pretty good at making Concord grape pies. Of course, I received a great deal of encouragement. And it was one thing I could do right.
Concords are available only in the fall, usually just in September, but I soon learned to buy a quantity, process them to remove the seeds, and freeze them so I could earn extra “girlfriend points” when they were out of season—for instance, as a February birthday-pie.
Honestly, who has the time to make pies? I was in grad school and working. During those years, grape pies were about the only ones I ever made, and I did it almost entirely for the “girlfriend points” in that troubled relationship.
Today, I find it ironic that grape pie—so tedious and time-consuming—has become the pie most people request of me. It just figures.
“Show me you love me . . . Hop when I holler, Skip when I snap; When I say ‘do it,’ jump to it . . . Peel me a grape.”
Three cups, enough for one pie, is about 240 grapes, for your information, each individually plucked from the bunch and hand skinned. And then there’s the cooking and processing to remove the seeds, all before you even think about rolling out any pastry.
I should have grown a backbone much sooner. But my pies are good.
Although that relationship couldn’t last, the reputation I developed among friends and family for making grape pies did. So I came to have at least one thing in common with good Mrs. S, who had peeled her grapes for her own famous pies all those years ago. Funny.
With my fame for grape pies, then, it’s no surprise that my mother, so generous, who loves to shop and give us things, dropped off a package of Concords she’d found at the grocery store this week. And so once again another one of my “signature” grape pies will be born.
. . . Now I can see why mom always warned me to be careful about my reputation.
(Here is what I did with these grapes, by the way; and here is a fun, retro alternative to the traditional grape pie.)