The Purple Piewoman

Oregon is a great place to live if you love food. For a good part of the year, we’re almost rolling in fresh fruits, berries and other produce, wild salmon, fresh hazelnuts, you name it. Besides which there are tons of fairly local dairies, cheesemakers (and more and more), meat producers, grain mills, wineries, and so on and so forth.

It can be a bit overwhelming for a girl who grew up in land-locked, semi-arid Colorado, but I can safely tell you that Oregon doesn’t quite have it all. For one thing, Oregon is sadly lacking in that quintessential fair food, funnel cakes—everyone here is enamored of flabby, greasy, sugar-caked elephant ears, a phenomenon I am at a loss to understand. (That may, in fact, have to be the subject of its very own post, because we missed Oktoberfest at Mt. Angel this year, and the funnel cake booth there is one fo the few I’ve found in the state.) For another thing, Oregon doesn’t have Rocky Mountain oysters… but wait, that’s a very good thing.

Slip-skinned grapes

The other thing I’ve really been missing ever since I came out to live in Oregon for college is Concord grapes. Oh, we have wine grapes galore. I’ve got some variety of champagne grape growing in my backyard as we speak. But I’ve never been able to find Concords in the farmer’s markets, or even at the grocery store, and believe me, I’ve looked. You see, one of our traditional family recipes in the fall is grape pie, a dessert that not many people (around here, at least) seem to be familiar with. I got so desperate to have grape pie one year that my mom brought a frozen container of homemade pie filling in her carry-on bag from Denver (this was before the days of tabooed liquids and gels on airlines).

Now, I have no idea why we managed to come by Concord grapes in Colorado every fall, but I can’t find them here. It just doesn’t compute. But when I saw the plastic packages of blue-black Niabell grapes stacked up at Whole Foods with the label “Concord-like” large as life on the front, I snapped some up before I could blink, and happily set to making my precious grape pie.

The Niabells were indeed Concord-like, with that characteristic grapey smell as you pinch each grape and pop the pale green innards out of their purply skin. A quick simmer, a rather more onerous sieving to remove all those pesky seeds, and a quick blitz of the handblender, and I had a violently purple pie filling ready to go.

White whole wheat crust

I decided to use white whole wheat flour in my pie crust this time in a nod to good eating habits, and the dough behaved really nicely. Since my last few crusts have been very short doughs for tarts that required serious patching, I was starting to feel inept at moving a rolled crust from the board to the pan. This one made me feel much more secure in my basic crust-handling skills.

Grape pie ready for the oven

Because the pie filling was rather liquidy, I parbaked my crust at 400F for 15 minutes, after its rest in the refrigerator. When it came out of the oven, I removed the pie weights and brushed the bottom and sides with a bit of egg white to seal them. I’ve never done this before, but heard it was a good way to avoid a soggy bottom, and the white dried very quickly to a shiny clear coating on the crust that looked trustworthy. In went the crayon-purple pie filling…

Grape pie out of the oven

…and less than an hour later, out came a perfect (if slightly overflowing) grape pie! Mmm, pie! And since, for unfathomable reasons Jeremy isn’t a fan of grape pie, that means there’s more for me! You better believe I’ll be haunting Whole Foods next August looking for Niabell grapes… or maybe I should just send my Berry Birds to spy for me.*

Sliced grape pie

I have no idea where my mom got this recipe from (maybe you can enlighten us, Mom?), but I know at least one of my aunts makes it too. My only adjustment to the recipe, other than the crust, was to puree the grape skins a bit after adding them back to the pulp, as I don’t much like the texture of the whole ones. Since this was my first grape pie-making experience personally, I didn’t want to stray from the recipe too much, but I would go ahead and puree them entirely next time, as even the smaller bits of skin just don’t do it for me. They definitely need to be in the pie, though, for color, flavor, nutrients, and pectin.

*Any other children of the 80’s remember these guys? I totally had Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes dolls to go along with all my other Strawberry Shortcakes, and I thought they were great. Probably still in my parents’ basement somewhere too…

Mom’s Grape Pie

1 1/2 lb (4 C) Concord or similar grapes
1 T lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C sugar, divided
5/6 C flour, divided
6 T butter, divided
1 9″ deep-dish pie shell, parbaked at 400F for 15 minutes

Slip skins from the grapes and reserve; if you have the right variety, they should pop right off when pinched between your fingers. Be sure to do this over a bowl to catch all the juices that will be released. Bring the pulp and juices to a boil with the lemon juice and salt; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Sieve to remove seeds; a food mill is very handy for this step.

Dump the reserved grape skins into a blender or food processor with 1 C sugar, 1/3 C flour, and 2 T melted butter. Puree until smooth, and stir into the sieved grape pulp. Pour into your parbaked pie crust, and bake at 400F for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift remaining 1/2 C flour with 1/2 C granulated sugar; cut in 1/4 C butter until crumbly (I use my food processor for this). Sprinkle atop pie, and bake 15 minutes more. Best when eaten with vanilla ice cream.

Update 9/23/07: I just found out that the Fruit a Month event for September is focusing on grapes, so this post will fit right in!

AFAM - September

Update 9/17/2011: We had a prodigious grape harvest this year at my parents’ house; they grow small purple slip-skin grapes that are similar to Concords. I made two grape pies with sourdough crusts, and since practically all the sugar was used up making grape jelly, I ended up using half and half organic cane sugar and coconut palm sugar for the topping. I also adjusted the recipe above to reflect a slight change in method regarding the grape skins. We are going to try canning some pie filling this year rather than freezing, so I’ll update again soon with some notes about that.

Update 9/27/11: We were able to can 3 quarts of grape pie filling successfully with our extra grapes from this year’s harvest. Basically I just followed the recipe, omitting the flour and butter, and bringing the completed filling up to a bare simmer before ladling into sterile quart jars and processing in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. You can see that the bits of grape skin floated to the top of the jars, but that can easily be stirred back together when we go to make a pie. We won’t know for sure how this worked out until we crack open a jar to try making pie in the winter or spring, but all seems well.

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15 thoughts on “The Purple Piewoman

  1. September 18, 2007 at 11:44 am

    I had actually never even heard of a grape pie until recently. This looks delicious! And I totally remember Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes. I had some little figurines that smelled like them, too. Ahhhh, memories….

  2. September 19, 2007 at 1:31 am

    I have only had grape pie once and it was deVine(no pun intended). I so should make this.

  3. September 21, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Deborah, it is delicious. Even Jeremy ate three pieces, which was more than I expected. I almost liked those figurines more than the Strawberry Shortcake ones, I think because of the long crooked arms and legs. I was always very careful to maintain Sour Grapes’ up-do, too. 🙂

    Peabody, please do give it a try and let me know what you think. The color alone makes it worthwhile: Hello, pretty purple antioxidants!

  4. October 11, 2007 at 2:23 am

    this looks delish!!

  5. Kerith
    October 29, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Concord Grapes are available at Justy’s Produce (503) 659-4169 and at Albeke Farms (503) 632-3989. I just juiced 50 pounds of grapes and am going back for 50 more if they’re not out already. Found your website by accident when I was searching to see if the were any other places to get Concord grapes around here! Haven’t found any but those two. YUM!

  6. October 30, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Ooh, Kerith, you made my day! Thanks so much for the tip. 🙂

  7. Carolyn
    August 23, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Thanks for this! One fall morning years ago my fiance (now my husband) and I saw a recipe for grape pie and, concord grapes being close by, decided to make one. We both remember spending the whole afternoon squishing the grapes out of the skins, which we didn’t add back to the grape mixture. Our pie didn’t have a crumble topping either, but I do remember how delicious it was. This recipe is a welcome find. I’ll make one soon! (And yes, I vividly remember Strawberry Shortcake et al)

  8. Jenny
    September 9, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    My dear mother used to make this pie, and this year our Concord grapes were in abundance, (I just finished making 44 half pints of Grape Jam), and my dearer 87 year old father asked for a grape pie. So back out to the garden for more grapes. Our vines are from some that my grandfather had planted on our farm years ago. Like the movie “Our Vines have Tender Grapes” I’ve lived on the family farm for the last 5 years and always have loved the fruits of our labors and share them with all we know. A gift from the garden or kitchen is better than anything one could buy. My fussy city bred husband who won’t touch my rhubarb pie, loved this one.

  9. ssc
    August 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    i know this is an old thread, but you can find large boxes of concord grapes at asian grocers. very short seasonal window, but i gorge on them (straight, not in a pie) until sated. fantastic stuff.

  10. Autumn
    October 18, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Thanks for the great recipe – I made my first grape pie today with it, and it came out perfect! Great consistency and sweet/tart balance. One note – I made half the filling, and it was enough for a 9 inch pie.

  11. Laurie Jarkiewicz
    June 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Mine is the oven right now, but I didn’t puree’ the skins…or parcook the crust and brush it. I hope it turns out okay. Looks delish! Also…the Concord Grapes came off my own grapevine!! I have always wanted to try grape pie!!

  12. September 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I have never had grape pie it looks amazing. Your crust looks perfect!

  13. June 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad I found this recipe! My husband and I just relocated from Hawaii to Western New York. We’re surrounded by grapes every which way you look – including a farm that surrounds our backyard.

    Today I took my cousin’s son cherry picking off the gorgeous big sour cherry tree in the back yard. As we were contemplating how good Grandma’s cherry pies were going to be thanks to our sweet haul – we started trying to plan what we could make come fall when the grapes are ready.

    I’ve been researching grape pie recipes all evening, and your’s not only sounds devine – but actually gets into some of the differences in grape variety. I can’t wait to try my hand at baking with grapes, I’ve never done it before. I’m pinning this one for sure though =)

  14. Shannon Tilley
    September 22, 2014 at 9:02 am

    I have this recipe! It is in a Better Homes and Garden Best recipes booklet and it was originally published in 1932

  15. November 1, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Wow, Shannon, that is so interesting! So my grandma could have almost been baking that recipe from the time of its publication…

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