The Coronation grapes are out! They are tiny little jewels of juicy lushness, bursting with Welch's grape flavour goodness.
I was delighted when I saw them offered at the market today. They are forever linked in my mind to a rather disastrous pie-making attempt in my past, which I will repost for you here.
From The Lighthouse, September 2009
The Grape Pie Incident
Shortly after I moved here, one of the local papers featured grapes. Not surprising, considering this is wine region, meaning grapes abound in plenty. The article included a couple of recipes, one of which was for a grape pie. Being a fan of pie, I thought it was a good idea: love grapes; love pie -- perfect combination! Only things have been busy, so that from day's end to day's end, I hadn't yet got around to making an attempt at the perfect grape pie.
Til this weekend. I had promised to make dinner for when my family returned home late this afternoon and after dithering over the menu I settled on pancakes and (turkey) bacon with fruit melange and whipcream. This seemed suitably Yom Kippurish, for which we are meant to eat something sweet, and taste new fruit (Pomegranate, in our case). And I thought for dessert I'd make the famous grape pie.
I am a competent baker of simple, straightforward, non-fussy recipes. I make a mean sticky oatmeal coffee cake (not a bundt), and a yummy mince pound cake (in a bundt), as well as assorted cookies and scones (nary a bundt among them) (Sorry...I got bundt on the brain after the first mention of 'cake'... kekk... cack...) but I have never mastered the art of crust. My sister, JB is so good at crust, she's blase about it. Most people have a secret crust weapon: frozen butter; marble slab; cold utensils; brand-specific lard... whatever. JB? Meh - toss around some fat, flour and liquid, and presto! Perfectly beautiful crust, everytime. She would have shrugged at the notion of grape pie. Me? It was like a neon light flashing over my shoulder all weekend long, as if I were in a film noir: "Pie!" "Pie!" "Pie!"
I shopped for the required grapes, and this might be where it all began to go wrong. The recipe used the Coronation variety - lovely, bright and green-skinned. We've been eating Concord grapes which we've loved, so that's what I bought. They look like bunched blueberries, so round and...blue. They are of a sort of grape which have a 'slip skin', meaning the juice resides between the skin and the flesh. You can pop them, and the skins slip off. Get it? (This I learned from the informative article which got me into this situation in the first place)
Bear in mind that I am about to attempt this pie while also cooking up enough pancakes and bacon to feed an army. And just for fun I'm baking applesauce cookies as well. Oh, and seeding a pomegranate.
The first step in the Great Pie Undertaking was to wash, then mash the grapes. Basically, I had to separate the flesh from the skins - which were to be reserved for later. Three cups worth of grapes did I have to pop, one by one, into a saucepan for boiling. Not nearly efficient enough for me! I grabbed handfulls of the fruit, squeezing grapes in my fist which caused the solid little centres to shoot out in all directions, all over the kitchen. Even now, I know there is one grape carcass at least, hiding behind the fruit bowl on the counter. Nevermind! On to the boiling! This was a cinch, only it made the house smell like it had been washed in Welsh's grape juice. Adding the skins...this too was easy. It should have all been good actually, except the pie maker and the unflavoured gelatin provider don't speak the same language. The recipe just said "add gelatin and stir until dissolved" but the gelatin people (who should know of what they speak, no?) laid out this routine of boiling water, adding gelatin, stirring, adding more water, stirring again...then adding it all "to the recipe as directed". I did all the stirring and adding and stirring, bringing both concoctions together, and placed it tenderly in the fridge for it to set, in preparation for folding in some whipping cream. Yum!
Did I mention that I bought a frozen pie crust? It seemed reasonable, what with the pancakes and all. And I went for the cheap, store-label one, too. Which just might be a wee bit smaller than your average store-bought pie shell. This will be an important point very shortly.
First of all, the grapes themselves were very very juicy. Lots of liquid. Then, with the gelatin stir-and-add fiasco, I added maybe another cup of fluid to the mix. Over an hour in the fridge found the goop - which was bright purple, by the way, not the tender green of the pie in the picture - still runny. I thought it might be a good idea to add more gelatin, only this time I used maybe half of the boiling water suggested. Still.... more volume.
Happily, the purple sludge seemed to be setting a bit, so I undertook to whip up the cream for folding. This, I have done many times before. I am a whipping cream literate...I know my way around the heavy cream, let me assure you. I used a hand mixer, and the nifty tall measuring container that came with it...which I thought was meant for mixing things in. This worked rather well, until I lost my grip on the measuring thing, and it starting spinning around like a top, and cream went everywhere. Not easily deterred, I scooped up what I could, and started again, only to have the same thing happen. Again. By this time, my white t-shirt was covered in purple dots from the grape-squeezing episode, I had whipping cream in my eyelashes, not to mention covering the wicker bread basket and the little frog lamp. (Note: cream cooks rather quickly on a 40 watt bulb)
And this is when my family came home. I had imagined myself like Betty Crocker: calm, composed, in control, dinner piping hot and ready to be served, while wonderful smells greeted them at the door, with me in my single strand of pearls. Nevermind. Again I scooped up the mess, and made a third attempt, which this time - thankfully - was sucessful. In that whipping cream was produced. And so I folded. And then... I poured. And a lava-like slide of pale purple ooze overflowed all over the counter, for the pie crust was far too small to contain it all. During this time, whipping cream and now grape goop was being dripped over the bacon which was patiently waiting on a cookie sheet to go in the oven to be kept warm... yummy!
Rather than the smooth, sophisticated pie, elegantly decorated with grapes, I will have to present my family with a lumpy, purple and white frothed horror, onto which I threw a handful of purple grapes in a fit of pique.
After all of that, I am left with a kitchen that has purple blobs on the cupboard doors, whipping cream decorating the underside of the cabinets, grape corpses hiding in nooks and cranies, and pomegranate jewels popping underfoot as we walk around.... and a family too full of pancakes to eat pie!