Canadian Food Experience Project – Concord Grape Pie

Concord Grape Pie -

07 Sep Canadian Food Experience Project – Concord Grape Pie

Vintage Recipe Card

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.

Concord Grape Pie -

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.

Concord Grape Pie -

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.

Concord Grape Pie -

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?

Concord Grape Pie
Recipe type: Baking
Cuisine: Autumn
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 to 8
This tart pie captures the flavour of autumn. Unlike sweet red or green grapes, dark Concord grapes are as intense as their colour.
  • 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
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and flour. Cut in butter until mixture resembles crumbles.
  7. 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.
  8. Cool before serving -- if you can wait that long. Serve with or without whipped cream.

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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.

Related Post

  • Amy Proulx
    Posted at 21:36h, 07 September Reply

    Perhaps part of the essence of the pie comes from the effort in its preparation. But do try making this pie with Sovereign Coronation grapes, the Concord’s seedless sibling. This simple switch will save all the skinning and pulping. Instead the fruit is destemmed, cooked with the sugar, zest and cornstarch, then poured into the pie shell.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 12:28h, 09 September Reply

      Thanks for the suggestion, Amy. I actually did try Coronation grapes once. Although they had far fewer seeds than the Corcords, they did have a some seeds — enough that I couldn’t skip the skinning / straining. I also found the taste wasn’t the quite the same. Very good, but not as intense. Since it’s a once-a-year pie, I don’t mind the extra work.

  • Helene
    Posted at 23:06h, 15 September Reply

    I usually don’t make desserts with the Concord Grapes but I have to admit that this pie would be a great way to use them in the kitchen.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:11h, 16 September Reply

      I’m actually quite taken with Concord grapes for dessert. I don’t care for them just off the stem, but in sorbet or pie? Or jam? Ooooh. I wish the season were longer. If you do make this pie, I’d love to know how it turns out.

  • bellini
    Posted at 00:45h, 16 September Reply

    Coronation grapes are only grown here in the Okanagan and in the Niagara region. We picked up a box when I was visiting my family in Ontario last weekend and then picked up some for myself when I was back home in BC. Concords don’t have the thick skin of the Coronation.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:51h, 16 September Reply

      I didn’t know the growing region for Coronation grapes was so limited. I assumed they grew wherever Concords were available. Thanks for this information. Both grapes are available here (I live 90 minutes from Niagara) and I prefer cooking with Concord but eating Coronation. That said, I wouldn’t turn either down since the season is so short and the flavour is so amazing.

  • A Canadian Foodie
    Posted at 15:06h, 25 September Reply

    I have never heard of, therefore tasted, Coronation grapes… that is what happens when you live in the prairies. But, the concord makes its way here every season and I DO love eating them off of the stem. They are a precious delicacy. So perfect in their pure form that it never dawned on me to do anything more with them. Oh, I know there is juice and jelly and jam… but, for me… the grape is the bomb. However, I will be making this pie, Charmian. You have convinced me that it will be worth it and I am not afraid of hard work for a once a year (and I make many recipes once a year with in season food) treat.
    I would like to know more about the origin of this recipe. Where did you come across it?
    And as for the shortbread – it must be the same as our family recipe – the sugar and flour are mixed together, then the butter is added and the dough is kneaded into submission…. I have never come across a better recipe.
    I have yet to see Concord grapes growing and hope that I get there one day – in that season.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:58h, 25 September Reply

      Thanks, Valerie. I think my mother has the same passion for the plain grape as you do. She’s ga-ga over the white ones, but no in pie form.

      Coronation Grapes are a seedless variety similar to the Concord. They are a tiny bit sweeter and less intense — to my palate. Others may disagree, but I am willing to put up with a bit more work for their taste. Since you’re patient enough to make cheese, you likely won’t find the pie daunting. However, other family members are used to 2-second pumpkin pie and are not willing to spend 20 minutes pinching grapes out of their skins. Everyone, however, is more than happy to eat the results :-) (I am more than happy to make this pie for them, it’s not a complaint, just an observation.)

      As for the recipe. I picked it up at a store long, long ago. I’ve seen variations on the Internet, so it’s not entirely unique — just a bit uncommon.

      If you come to the Niagara region for your Concord grape fix, let me know. I’m about 90 minutes’ drive from there. It’s gorgeous!

  • Redawna
    Posted at 17:43h, 01 October Reply

    So neat to see this recipe. We sell these grapes at the store I work at. They are quite popular, now I can see why. Gorgeous pie!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 21:18h, 01 October Reply

      Thanks. It’s one of my favourites. I couldn’t eat it on a regular basis, but it says autumn to me. I’m experimenting with more Concord grape recipes but this one is my sentimental favourite.

  • Liliana
    Posted at 15:32h, 05 October Reply

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. My mother-in-law grows Concord grapes and we just eat them off the vine. Next year, I will use your recipe to make a pie.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:14h, 09 October Reply

      I’m so jealous of your grape accessibility! Freeze them if you can for later. I make jam and sherbet and sorbet as well as pie, so they are surprisingly versatile!

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