We went to the Farmer's Market yesterday morning. I love going to the market this time of year, when I know the produce is genuinely grown by local folks instead of being shipped here from somewhere else. I was mainly looking for tomatoes, which I love more than any other seasonal produce. I wanted big, red tomatoes to slice thick and eat with my dinner, and I also wanted more of the heirloom cherry tomatoes we bought last week. The heirloom tomatoes are mottled purple and green, and very flavorful, with none of the acidic taste so characteristic of most tomatoes. Happily, I found all the tomatoes I wanted.
I noticed a dealer with a peck basket full of Concord grapes. He was selling them for a dollar a pint, but I bought everything he had for eight dollars, at Julie's encouragement. "We don't want to do grapes this weekend, do we?" I asked her. "Yes, we do," was her quick reply. As the dealer was bagging the grapes for me, an older woman with a strong eastern European accent asked me what I planned to make with them all. "I'm going to make grape pie filling," I said. "Have you ever had it?" Most people have never tasted Concord grape pie, but it is an old family favorite at our house. My mother used to make it once in a while, and my understanding is that the recipe was passed down from my dad's Grandma George - Carrie Krear Gould George, whose father was killed in the waning days of the Civil War.
When we lived in our house on Denison, Ben planted grape vines along the chain-link fence at the back of our yard. Before too many years had passed, we were harvesting enough grapes each September to make several pies. Eventually, it was quite a production. Ben and Tom would harvest grapes and put them in five-gallon pails, which they would flood with water to drive off at least some of the assorted critters. Julie and I had our assembly line set up in the kitchen where we would pick the grapes from the stems and wash them, then skin and boil them until the seeds cooked free. Then we would just add sugar and freeze the grapes until I was ready to bake them into a pie. Some years we froze fifteen or twenty bags of grapes. We ate most of the pies ourselves, but they were also in great demand at family gatherings and at our workplaces. As I said, most people had never tasted grape pie before, but became fans once they tried it.
If you want to make a Concord grape pie yourself, I include my recipe. I warn you, although it is not difficult, it is quite labor-intensive. I think if you try it, though, it will become one of your favorites, too.
Concord Grape Pie
4 very full cups Concord grapes, removed from stems, and well-rinsed
1 shallow cup sugar
3 Tbsps. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 Tbsps. butter
Begin with a pan and a bowl, set side by side. Each washed grape must be squeezed above the pan, so that the pulp and seeds fall into the pan, then the skins are dropped into the bowl, which is set aside. The pulp and seeds should be boiled on a low flame until the pulp has completely broken down and all the seeds have floated free.
Pour the hot grape pulp into a strainer above the bowl of grape skins. Force the pulp through the strainer, and onto the skins, leaving only the seeds in the strainer - these are then discarded. Dissolve the sugar in the hot grape mixture.* Add the flour, salt, and lemon peel, and mix well. Pour mixture into pastry-lined pie pan. Dot small pieces of butter over pie filling, then cover with second layer of pie crust - I find a lattice is very attractive on this pie. Alternately, a streusel topping works very well on this pie in place of the upper crust.
Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling starts to bubble. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. You'll thank me if you do.
*This is the point where I pour the mixture in a bag and put it in the freezer. You can do that, too, if you want to.