When I put this pie into the oven I thought, this has to be the goddamned ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. Pie making is typically not a graceful process. (At least for me, you may be brilliant at it.) I usually vow to never make another as I close the oven door.
And this adventure was even more tenuous as it involved lard, and its rendering. Leaf lard, though poetically named, is the fat around the kidney of a pig. It’s wonderful for pastry because it doesn’t taste too piggy (or renal-y) and makes things incredibly tender. But you need to melt it down to separate out the chewy parts.
You get a beautiful golden liquid, which turns snow-white when chilled. And in the liquid you have chicharron-like morsels bobbing about, which ultimately get strained. It’s actually not a terribly difficult process. Though, if you spill some when hot, you’ll be cleaning up white waxy bits for days.
Still with me? Let’s get back to pie. I first heard of grape pie during a weekend trip to the Finger Lakes a few years ago. It was advertised on a small roadside sign, but unfortunately the shop—which looked suspiciously like the baker’s actual house—was closed. I still think about it every October.
Well, the 1st was my birthday. And now that I am in my 31st year, I thought I would wait no longer for grape pie.
Good thing. It’s a beautiful fall dessert. My friend Deb said it reminded her of childhood, something about it she just couldn’t place. Then she ate two pieces.
And I think that’s a pretty appropriate description. It’s slightly unusual, but balanced by a familiar memory of Welch's. When cooked, it resembles blueberry pie, until you notice the inky purple color. Plus the crust is insanely tender and flaky. (Lard will do that.)
So it’s solidified its place as an annual autumn pie, despite being a tad fussy. Because after it’s all over, and bubbling hot out of the oven, and gorgeously golden brown, you forget what a bitch it is to work with. (Good pie will do that.)
Concord Grape Pie with Leaf Lard Crust
for the pie crust
245 grams (1¾ cups) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
110 grams (1 stick) of butter, cold
118 grams (about ½ cup) leaf lard, cold
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp whole milk
1 egg (for the top)
demerara sugar (for the top)
for the filling
2 pounds concord grapes
scant ½ cup sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
4 to 5 tbsp cornstarch (use the larger amount if the grapes are really liquid-y)
pinch of salt
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt (for the crust) until combined (about 10 to 15 seconds). Cut the butter into 6 pieces and the leaf lard into 1-inch chunks. Scatter the butter and lard over the flour and mix on low speed until clumps the size of walnuts form (about a minute).
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk; add to the mixture on low speed until the dough barely comes together (about 30 seconds); it will look rough and will not be well-formed.
Dump the dough onto an unfloured surface and then gather it into a mound. Using the palm of your hand, push down and smear out the mound, starting at the top; work around clockwise until the fat is smeared into the dough and the dough comes together (this usually takes between 1 to 2 rounds, or 4 to 8 total smears).
Gather up the dough and wrap tightly in plastic wrap; chill for at least 4 hours.
When you are ready to make the filling, remove the dough from the fridge (to let it warm up so it can be rolled).
Over a medium bowl, remove the skin of each grape by pinching it with your fingers (it will come off easily); place the skins in the medium bowl and the fleshy green pulp into a medium saucepan. Continue until all the grapes have been separated into pulp and flesh. Set the skins aside and cook the pulp for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat until the seeds separate from the pulp (this will be easy to see).
Strain the pulp over the bowl with the skins, pressing down to extract all the liquid and pulp (you’ll actually have quite a bit). Discard the seeds; set the grape mixture aside to cool. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and salt; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Get out an 8 or 9-inch pie pan. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Generously flour your work surface, your rolling pin, and 1 half of the dough (the dough is much easier to handle well-floured).
Roll out the dough until it’s about 12 inches in diameter, pushing the pin out and gently rotating the dough as you go. Loosely roll up the dough around the rolling pin and then gently onto your pie pan. Ease the dough into the pie pan and leave about a ½ inch overhang around the edges. (If it rips a bit, simply piece it back together.) Stick the pie pan in the fridge.
Place the sugar mixture into the saucepan with the grapes and stir to combine. In a small bowl, beat the egg and get out a pastry brush. Flour your work surface again and roll out the second piece of dough in the same manner as the first.
Take the pie pan out of the fridge and pour in the grape mixture (if you are using an 8-inch pan you may have a little grape mixture left over, depending on the depth of your pan, so just pay attention as you are pouring so you don’t overfill). Wrap your second piece of dough around your rolling pin and over the pie. Crimp the edges together and cut a few vents in the center. Brush the top with beaten egg and generously dust with demerara.
Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes. Along the way, check the pie to make sure the edges aren’t getting too dark, if they are cover them with foil (I had to do this after about 20 or 25 minutes, and actually turned my oven down to 300 for about 15 minutes, but I think my new oven runs a little warm). Bake until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Cool before serving.
-Here’s some information on leaf lard (why it’s wonderful and how to render it). I found mine from the farmers’ market, though a butcher shop may have some they’ve already rendered.
-The grape filling will be mostly liquid, but will gel as it bakes.
-In my research, leaf lard crusts had a ratio of 60% butter to 40% lard. However, laziness—and an abundance of lard—prevailed for me. (I didn’t want to cut into another stick of butter and so I went 50-50.) I don’t think I’ll look back.