Tastes of the Region #6: Grape Pie

The other day I was thrilled to read that Upstate’s Ontario County has been rated the #1 place to live by Progressive Farmer Magazine. In the article, I found this quote:
“Tourism is blossoming, thanks largely to the county's agricultural heritage. Ever heard of a grape pie? No? Well go to Naples, where this self-proclaimed (and who's going to challenge them on this?) "Grape Pie Capital of the World" brings in well over 100,000 visitors during the few weeks of grape harvest. When it's over, about two-dozen women have sold more than 70,000 pies from their kitchens. The Concord grape may not be as popular as it once was, but folks here still find it quite useful, thank you very much.”
Being the occasional author of an article or two on Upstate foods, my interest was piqued. I found more information on one of my personal favorite sources on Upstate living, Voices, the Journal of New York Folklore. In 2002, they did an excellent short piece on grape pies.

The pie first became popular in the 1960s when a
Naples restaurateur, Al Hodges, added grape pies to his menu to add local flavor. He acquired a recipe “from an old German woman in the area.” Demand for the pies quickly outstripped his ability to make them, so he enlisted Irene Bouchard, who lived across the street and owned a bakery, to make the pies.

When the article was written (2002), Mrs. Bouchard was 84 years old and still baking. She is locally recognized as the Mother of the grape pie in Naples. The local concord grapes are common in the vineyards and the village is the self-proclaimed Grape Pie Capital of the World. It hosts the annual
Grape Festival which has competitions for everything from grape bread to wine and of course grape pie.

Why is grape pie so distinctive, and why isn’t everyone eating it? From what I understand, the secret is the fact that grapes are a pain to peel so chances are they’ll never really rival apple, cherry, etc. From my personal experience, concord grapes are something of an acquired taste and I read the pies described by some as tasting like Pop-Tarts. Of course, I’ve also read
this description on www.rateitall.com:
“If any of you ever get to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, find a little town called Naples. There you will find, all summer long, roadside stands selling grape pies. Believe me, you have not lived. The town holds a grape festival every year, I think in September or early October. I tried to go to it once, the cars were backed up, coming into the town for a mile and a half. Every incoming road, even the ones only the townies know about.”
So, with any luck, grape pie will remain a local delicacy, one of those little local quirks, like catlessness or polish pizza, that make our communities unique and special. The pie’s relatively recent popularity and level of variation within the community of Naples itself (for example, there is an array of thickeners available like flour or tapioca) show that our communities can still be vital creative places. To order a grape pie for yourself, there are many places available throughout Ontario County but you can have them shipped from the Arbor Hill Winery or from Monica’s Pies. To end our essay, I would like to include Mrs. Bouchard’s recipe from Voices. I was tempted to use the one from Progressive Farmer, but I think that I’d best trust Upstate authors and the oldest grape pie maker to know best. Enjoy!

Mrs. Bouchard’s Grape Pie
5 1/2 cups Concord grapes, washed

about 1 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the grapes
1 tablespoon tapioca
Pastry for a 9-inch pie

Pop the skins off the grapes by pinching them at the end opposite the stem; set them aside. Put the pulp (without water) into a heavy pan, bring it to a boil, and let it boil 5 to 6 minutes. Put it through a colander or food mill to remove the seeds. Pour the hot pulp over the skins and let the mixture sit for 5 hours. ("This colors the pulp and makes it pretty.") Add the sugar and tapioca, then pour the mixture into the pie crust and dot with butter. Put on the top crust. (Irene uses a "floating" top crust—a circle of dough slightly smaller than the top of the pie—because it is easier than crimping top and bottom together and it also makes a pretty purple ring around the edge.) Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook 20 minutes more until the crust is browned and the juice begins to bubble up.

-Posted by Jesse


Linda D said...

The Finger Lakes are absolutely beautiful, and Canandaigua is the most beautiful town in the Finger Lakes. It has a great lakeside beach/park and an amusement park. It also has a real treasure that wasn't mentioned in the article: Sonnenberg Gardens. If you like gardening and/or historic houses, you should visit this site. It's being restored, and gets better every time I visit! Late spring (May/early June) are probably the best time to see the gardens.

Jakob Grimm said...

Bob dylan has been an upstater for a while now, his song country pie from nashville skyline was written about upstate ny pie.

Jodie said...

I grew up in Palmyra, NY and went to the Grape Festival every year. We looked forward to buying and eating this pie, oh, it was so good. Now, for the past 15 years, I live in Florida and there are few things I miss from NY and the grape pie is 2nd on the list. (Topping the list is the beautiful fall colors). I'm going to try to make this and hopefully I won't be disappointed.