Grapes are so easy to eat you don t have to peel them or cut them. Maybe that s why we ve forgotten that we can bake with them.
Although dedicated cooks have used grapes for making jellies and jams or wine, and for occasional baking, through the years these time-consuming tasks have been done less frequently. One recipe that s been too often forgotten is the Concord grape pie.
In addition, seedless varieties of grapes shipped from California can be used as an ingredient in cakes and coffee cakes, in main dishes and salads.
Local grape growers are most likely to have Concord grapes, long used in grape jelly and wine making. Concord grapes can also be used for a delicious sweet pie, an old-fashioned recipe that few cooks make now. With a little patience to remove the tiny seeds, you can discover that Concord grapes make a terrific pie. Or, faster yet, use seedless green grapes to make a delicious coffee cake for breakfast. Both recipes are contemporary renditions of old-fashioned favorites. In addition, there s French and Italian-inspired breads and desserts that will keep your oven warm.
In the next two months get your fill of Concord grapes, which are far sweeter than I imagined, each with tiny little seeds. Local residents who have grapevines tell me they don t have much fruit on the vine this year and that the season seems late; perhaps the grapes will ripen by mid-September.
But last week I bought Concord grapes at $2.99 per pound from Monnette s produce market. According to the label, these are from either Arkansas or New York State. Locally grown Concord grapes are not sold often in area markets, but watch your farmers markets and you may get lucky.
For a Concord Grape Pie, you ll need two pounds of grapes. Cooks will tell you that they made this pie years ago, but now rarely make it because it is time-consuming to remove the seeds.
You could mistake a Concord Grape Pie for a blueberry pie. A decade ago, a friend shared her recipe, which used flour in the filling. Her recipe is similar to one in Joy of Cooking: All About Pies & Tarts (Scribner, $15.95), except it uses tapioca or cornstarch.
To remove the seeds, these recipes instruct that the skin is slipped off by pinching each Concord grape, a time-consuming process. The pulp is then simmered for five minutes and strained, preferably with a food mill (See column at left). The skins, the pulp without the seeds, the juice, flour, salt, lemon juice, and melted butter make the filling.
Without the food mill, a lot of pulp can be wasted. So I tried a different method of removing the seeds inspired by a recipe in Claudia Fleming s The Last Course (Random House, $40): I cut the Concord grapes in half and removed the seeds with the tip of a paring knife.
The Concord Grape Pie was baked using both methods, and the flavor, the color, and the taste is identical. Cutting the grapes in half, which kept the pulp connected to the skin, did produce a more tender filling. The method of slipping the skins off the grape produced a chewier pie.
According to author Ethan Becker in the Joy of Cooking: All About Pies & Tarts, only Concord grapes or a related variety whose skins slip off when pinched can be used with this recipe. Fox grapes (a variety of Concord grapes) native from New England to Georgia to Indiana are the principal American species of the Concord grape.
The grapes may be sweet but are usually astringent, so the pie has a touch of tartness to it as well as sweetness.
The pie can be made with a lattice crust top or with a crumb crust. Both are delicious.
Cookbook author Fleming writes that she got the inspiration for Grape Focaccia with Rosemary from reading about the grape harvest in Italy. During the autumn, when grapes are harvested for wine, some of the extra grapes end up scattered on top of bread dough and baked into focaccia. After seeing baskets of Concord grapes at her local farmer s market, she baked the fruit into an American version.
Because Concord grapes have so much pectin, they cook down to jam while in the oven. She serves the grape focaccia with Gorgonzola or ricotta cheese for a perfect cheese-and-fruit plate. If you can t get Concord grapes, substitute red or black grapes.
From the French comes the idea of clafouti. Originally from the Limousin region of France, the country-French dessert is made by topping a layer of fresh fruit with batter. After it is baked it is served hot, sometimes with cream.
Apple, Grape, and Madeira Clafoutis made with seedless red grapes is a recipe found in The Wine Lover Cooks with Wine by Sid Goldstein (Chronicle, $24.95). It is more pudding like than cake-like.
Most of the ingredients are already in your kitchen except for the fortified wine Madeira.
The Blade tested this recipe made with, and then without, Maderia. The recipe works well either way. The dessert is best served warm with whipped cream or ice cream. However, it can be held in the refrigerator until the next day; simply heat each serving for about 60 seconds in your microwave.
Use seedless green grapes in Breakfast Coffee Cake with Grapes and Pecan Streusel. This is an easy recipe with an awesome flavor that kids will like. It holds well for several days.
Regarding the coffee cake recipe, There are no cooking steps with seedless grapes, says Jim Howard, California Table Grape Commission spokesperson. We ve used green and red grapes in focaccia dough as well. Grapes don t overpower the dish. This Breakfast Coffee Cake has lots of spices and flavors. The grapes add juiciness and moisture.
California is growing a seedless Concord grape which is available in limited quantities, mostly at farmers markets. It s very delicate to ship. The season is short, he says.
For those who love Concord grape pies, a seedless Concord grape would be perfect.
Contact Kathie Smith at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.