If someone asked me to write a cookbook, and told me to write it about my favorite thing to make, I’d write about pie. Sweet, savory, cream, fruit, nut. All kinds — there are a bajillion possibilities when it comes to crust and filling combinations. I also find the tactile experience of mixing and rolling out dough extremely therapeutic. Like the punching bag-type of therapy, where all your stress and frustration seems to flow right through your fingers into something productive. Or delicious, in this case.
I know I just wrote about pie, but I wanted to follow-up with you all on my Thanksgiving creation. It was a few weeks in the making, but I wanted to do something unexpected this year for our annual family pie competition. Originally, it was just my sister and I duking it out for the title. The past few years, Mr. Mandible and my dad have submitted entries as well. That brings us to four pies. As a contestant, I’m happy to have more horses in the race; it fuels my competitive spirit. However, as an eater, it is discouraging to have to eat four slices of pie after what is arguably the largest meal I will eat all year. Even if those slices are the smallest of slivers.
To be clear, I am not complaining about too many pies. Bring on the variety and the leftovers! What I’m saying is, let’s just have an entire day devoted to eating pie. It’s my favorite part of the holiday, and on Thanksgiving, it’s always overshadowed by turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes. I just want more room for pie! Black Friday? Not Interested. All-You-Can-Eat Pie-day? I’m 100% in favor. We can do this, America. If I could, I’d write a cookbook about pies. If I could, I’d declare a national pie holiday — a proper holiday like Thanksgiving, not just one of those weird days honoring a food because the President deemed it National Bavarian Cream Pie Day or National Pizza with Anchovies Day (FYI this is real and NO ONE celebrates it).
Back to my pie. The moment I came across Mom’s Concord Grape Pie in Red Jacket Orchard’s cookbook, Fruitful, I knew it would be the perfect thing for our Thanksgiving throw-down. I’d never come across grape pie before, but the Red Jacket folks knew how to sell it: it is a labor of love, and of good timing, since Concords are only available for a very short time each year. The utterly fabulous people at Heinen’s tracked down a few cartons from their last batch of the season for me two weeks before Thanksgiving. I came home, photographed those beauties, made the filling without the thickener, and froze it until I was ready to bake. With a little Martha Stewart magic and a mellow Spotify playlist easing my task, I had four big bunches of grapes washed and de-skinned in no time. I was amazed that the flesh of the fruit really does just pop out of the skin with the right pressure. It was fun! Separating out the seeds proved a bit trickier, but it was worth it. This pie was special, as Fruitful had assured me. It was like drinking a glass of just-squeezed grape juice, with the added textural contrast of the flaky, crispy crust and the slightly chewy skins. The tangy, rich flavor of the grapes paired well with a dab of fresh lemon whipped cream, or I’d recommend a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream (if you have room, that is.)
For the crust: I used this recipe, also adapted from Fruitful.
For the filling:
2 pounds Concord grapes, stemmed and washed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca OR corn starch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Milk, heavy cream or one egg, lightly whisked — for brushing on top
To make the filling, slip the skins from the grapes (as shown in the Martha Stewart video, above); place the skins and pulp in separate bowls. Transfer the pulp to a medium pot over medium heat; cook until the seeds loosen from the pulp, 5 to 10 minutes. Working over a large bowl, press the pulp through a medium-mesh sieve or colander to separate out the seeds. Discard the seeds and stir the skins into the strained pulp.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
To the grape mixture, add the sugar, lemon juice, tapioca (or corn starch), and salt.* Stir to combine, and let the filling stand for 15 minutes at room temperature while you roll out the crust.
On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll each disc of dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer one round to the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Pour in the filling. Cut the remaining crust into 1-inch-thick strips for a lattice crust, or you can cover the entire pie, and cut out small slits to ventilate. I actually tried the lattice thing for the first time, and it was both easier and harder than I imagined. Watching others do it on YouTube, the technique seemed easy, but it was more difficult to do in reality. I might have loaded too much filling into my pie, because the strips were soon covered in purple grape goo as soon as I tried to fold them back for the whole weaving thing. You might have more success!
Brush the top of the pie with the milk or egg wash. Make sure you put a rimmed baking sheet or some folded aluminum foil beneath the pie; it is quite juicy and the filling will bubble over while it bakes. Bake the pie at 450°F for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling thickly, about 40 more minutes. You may have to cover the edges with aluminum after 20 minutes if they look like they may get too burnt. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool completely before serving.
*If you are making the filling ahead of time and need to freeze it, just mix together the grape pulp and skins, sugar, and lemon. I enclosed everything in a plastic freezer bag (actually, two bags in case of leaks) and the fruit kept its freshness well. Once I was ready to bake, I threw everything in a big pot on low heat to thaw, adding the thickener and the salt. Once it was completely thawed, I let it sit until it cooled to room temperature before rolling out my pie crusts.