The family that lived in the house before us planted concord grapes, with dark purple skins, squishy green pulp, and an intense grape flavor associated more with Jolly Ranchers than fruit. Only problem is, the grapes are full of seeds. Eating them is tricky; imagine the seediest watermelon you’ve ever eaten, then shrink it to one-one thousandth the size, and you get the idea. For this reason, my three kids and I always monitor their growth, pick a few, then leave them to the squirrels.
But this morning, my 8-year-old and I woke up early, donned boots, and went out to harvest the grapes. I say this like we live on a farm, but really we own a tiny, urban lot in the heart of the city. The walk from house to back fence is barely 50 feet, but we might as well have been at a vineyard, so far away did we feel once our heads were tucked under leafy grapevines to search out the hidden fruit. We managed to fill the colander with eight cups, just what we needed for two grape pies, which are, as luck would have it, my husband’s childhood favorite.
This is not a fast recipe. Rather, this is a project, something to do with your kids or just by yourself simply because the end result is worth it. It’s like making applesauce. Yes, you could buy it at the store, but when you make it at home you get more than the food. You get the memories, too. Someday, I hope my kids are in Napa tasting wine or at a wedding at a vineyard and see the grapes hanging on the vines and remember the grape pies we made once a year when they were little. What follows is a photo journey through the steps.
After picking the grapes, we stemmed them and popped off the skins, a fun activity for all three kids. My aunt (who is visiting from Minnesota), was helping in the kitchen too, and when she tasted a grape she sighed, remembering the concord grapes from her own childhood on a farm in Ohio — and long-forgotten recipes that her mother used to make with them.
After separating the pulp from the skins, we cooked the pulp over low heat for 15 minutes to soften it up.
So far, the cooking project was just what we wanted. Then it came time to press the pulp through a fine strainer to remove the seeds. This step took what felt like forever, and more than once I felt myself getting impatient. (“Surely there’s a faster way to do this!” I kept thinking.) I had to force my mind to slow down, and I invited my son to leave his matchbox cars and help. It was while my kindergartener took a turn pressing the softened grapes with a big wooden spoon that he looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I LOVE this!” It was a moment I would’ve missed if I had succumbed to my normal mode of “get this done fast” and done it myself.
Next we combined the pulp, skins, lemon juice, orange zest, sugar and tapioca and let the filling sit for 15 minutes. Then I filled the waiting pie crusts and covered them with lattice tops. In the oven they went. To pass the time until the timer went off, my son rolled out the scraps of dough and sprinkled his “cookies” with cinnamon and sugar for a little treat. I could tell by his face that he liked these even more than Oreos. Don’t we always get more out of something when we work for it?
Right when the pies came out of the oven, we raced to a soccer game. By the time we got home, the pies were cool and ready to eat. Delicious!