My Cherished Canadian Recipe
Everyone in my immediate family uses the same shortbread recipe. We got it from my mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from a rather odd neighbour. My grandmother wanted the recipe so badly she dutifully wrote out the instructions while the neighbour demonstrated an elaborate kneading technique that involved the heel of your palm and an awkward wrist motion. My practical grandmother scribbled notes, thanked her instructor and once home, simply beat the dough into submission with a spoon. This pragmatic version is and always will be the only shortbread at the Christie Christmas spread.
Shortbread, butter tarts, lemon bars and pumpkin pie — My mother and all my sisters have a copy of the same go-to family recipes. Each is handwritten on an index card and stuffed in our respective recipe boxes. I shouldn’t speak for others. I’m sure everyone else files theirs away neatly and with great care. The only thing I know for sure is that they are used. Often. Everyone’s is grease-stained and dog-eared. Mine is so old it reveals my fat, ultra-girly, high-school penmanship. In green ink, no less. Because blue or black was just too “bourgeois” for me. I might have been above PaperMates®, but I wasn’t about to pass on these middle-class, work-horse recipes.
So which of these family desserts am I choosing as my Cherished Canadian Recipe? None of them.
Instead, I am choosing the Little Red Hen of the Recipe Box. A recipe everyone asks for but no one is willing to make. A recipe I faithfully bake once — and only once — a year since the main ingredient is fleeting, and the filling takes longer to prepare than the pie takes to bake. I cherish it so much I am willing to stand at the counter and skin two pounds of grapes one purple, finger-staining berry at a time.
On the surface it might look as if I have abandoned the green pen only to take up another form of culinary snobbery. I haven’t. While this pie is a relative newcomer to the family — less than 20 years — it’s integral to my Canadian Food Experience. Concord grapes are one of the few seasonal fruits with no imported alternative available throughout the year. They are here now. Grab a basket while you can. They will be gone in a matter of weeks and you will have to wait until next September to see them again. Moreover, I’ve never seen a commercial equivalent of this pie in the supermarket. Not even a sickly sweet jammy version like the poor raspberries are forced to endure.
No. Concord Grape Pie is a home cook’s labour-intensive, limited-time offer to those she loves.
Let me be clear. This is not a mild-mannered, polite Canadian pie. This tart bites back. Intense and bold, it’s not the pleasant, approachable dessert everyone begs for. I leave that honour to the pumpkins and apples. Those that love Concord Grape Pie have been known to lick their plates clean. Those that don’t can give me their share.
If Autumn could be confined to one smell, it would be Concord Grapes. This recipe is my homage to Canada’s most beautiful season.
What food means fall to you?
- 1 deep 9-inch pie shell
- 2 pounds Concord grapes
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup flour
- ¼ cup butter
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Skin the grapes: Pinch the grapes gently to pop the pulp from the skin. Drop the pulp into a medium saucepan and put the skins a medium-sized bowl. Set the skins aside.
- Cook the pulp: Place the saucepan of pulp over medium-high heat. Bring the pulp to a boil, mashing the pulp occasionally with a potato masher to release the seeds and break down the fruit. Reserve ⅓ cup grape liquid.
- Strain the pulp: Place a sieve over the bowl holding the reserved skins. Strain the pulp to remove seeds. You will likely need to push the pulp through the sieve with the back of a ladle. Discard the seeds. Stir the de-seeded pulp into the skins to blend thoroughly.
- Finish the filling: In a large bowl, whisk the cornstarch and reserved grape liquid together until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, orange zest, sugar and grape mixture.
- Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and flour. Cut in butter until mixture resembles crumbles.
- Assemble and bake: Pour the filling into the pie crust. Sprinkle evenly with the topping. Bake for 35 minutes or until the crust golden, the filling is bubbling around the edges and the streusel topping is evenly cooked.
- Cool before serving -- if you can wait that long. Serve with or without whipped cream.
The Canadian Food Experience Project is a monthly series of themed posts from participating Canadian food bloggers across the country. By sharing our personal stories and regional food experiences, we hope to answer the elusive question, “Just what exactly is Canadian Cuisine?”
Read us. Talk to us. Join us. Then eat.
Photo of recipe card ©Muffet. Published under a Creative Commons.