Growing up, my grandma, Joan O. Curran, was always the one in charge of making holiday meals. This usually meant a gorgeous roast, homemade gravy from the drippings and some sort of green veggie the cousins would begrudgingly add to our plate. The real star of the show, though, was always her dessert.
From light-as-air meringue kisses and chocolate chip cookies to about a million kolacky, my cousins and I gobbled up my grandma’s sweets until there were only a few crumbs left on the dessert table.
As we got older, my cousins and I wanted to pitch in for holidays and family get-togethers, but when we’d ask our grandma for the recipes of her must-have dishes, she always shut us down. Grandma was keeping her recipes under lock and key.
So, it was a huge surprise when my grandma sat me down a few months ago and presented me with her crown jewel: her mother’s handwritten recipe book. My great-grandma Ottilie Catherine Drackner Fail’s fragile, slightly crumpled composition notebook was stuffed, literally, with all of the desserts and dishes my family had been eating for years.
There were almond horns, hoska and not one, not two, but six kolacky recipes. Can you tell we’re Czech? While it was nearly impossible to not immediately start making her famous meringue kisses or chicken paprika, there was one recipe that stopped me short of turning the page.
It was a recipe for grape pie filling that could pull double-duty as a filling for kolacky. It really stood out to me because my grandma never had grape pie, that I could remember, and I had definitely never had a grape kolacky. In an effort to find out what this forgotten recipe was all about, I rolled up my sleeves, bought a bunch of grapes and got ready to make a pie.
My Great-Grandma’s Grape Pie Recipe
- 4 cups Concord blue grapes
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- Double pie crust or yeast-dough kolacky
Editor’s note: If you’re not able to find Concord grapes, don’t worry. They were out of season when I made this recipe and my small, city grocery didn’t have any in stock. So, I substituted a bag of the darkest table grapes I could find, and they worked just fine. You can learn more about grape varieties in this guide.
The first step for this filling was to “squeeze apart” the grapes. Having never had a recipe call for squeezing grapes, I wasn’t really sure what great-grandma, who we usually refer to as Babi, meant by this. But after reading further down, I noticed that the directions involved cooking the grape pulp and skins separately, so I figured those where what needed to be squeezed apart.
It was a slow and sticky process at first, but after awhile I got into the swing of pinching one end of the grape so the pulp would squirt out the other. Since Concord are a slip-skin grape, and the grapes I was using had a thinner skin, it’s likely I has a bit tougher time than Babi had.
Editor’s Note: Before squeezing, I gave the grapes a good rinse and pat dry.
When I reached four cups worth of grape pulp, it was time to cook it into filling. Following Babi’s instructions, I simmered just the pulp in a pot over low heat for about 20 minutes. This was to release seeds from the pulp to be fished out and removed from the filling.
While the grapes I used didn’t have seeds that were as large as a Concord’s, there were still small seeds that needed to be released. Babi didn’t give any insight as to how to remove the seeds, so I just went in with a small spoon and started scooping them out one-by-one. I’m sure there’s a better way to go about it, like with a mesh strainer, but there’s always next time!
Spicing it Up
Next, I had to add the grape skins back to the pulp and then stir in the egg yolks, flour, sugar and cloves. The only thing was, Babi didn’t mention if this was supposed to be off heat, over a burner and/or simmer at all after.
Since flour was being used as the thickening agent, I decided to keep the filling over low heat and let it simmer for a few minutes so the flour taste could cook off. To prevent the egg yolks from curdling in the hot filling, I first tempered the yolks in a small bowl with a few tablespoons of the hot filling. When it was up to temperature, I added the yolks to the filling, too.
Assembling the Pie
After a few minutes of simmering, the filling became thick and bubbling, meaning it was ready to go. I used our Classic Butter Pie Pastry, but feel free to use a store-bought pie crust or make kolacky dough. You may need to blind-bake your pie crust before adding the grape filling to prevent a soggy bottom. New to baking pie? Here’s how to blind-bake like a pro.
Editor’s Note: If you plan on adding a lattice top, let the filling cool down first. Otherwise the hot filling will start to melt the pastry and make it much harder to work with.
Once my pie was filled and topped, I popped it into a 350-degree oven for Babi’s recommended 45 minutes. After 30 minutes or so, the edges of my pie were nice and golden, so I wrapped some foil around them to prevent them from burning.
By the time 45 minutes were up and the pie was done, the pie—and my apartment—smelled amazing. Though I was tempted to dig in the minute I pulled it from the oven, I exercised some control and let the pie rest for another half an hour or so.
When I finally cut a slice, I was not disappointed. The filling had thickened even more while baking, giving the slice nice, clean edges, and it had a deep purple hue. The flavor had a grape jelly-like sweetness but slightly more mellow, likely due to the cloves. Though it was a little too sweet for my tastes (I’ll probably bring the sugar down to ¾ cup next time), the filling was comforting and super flavorful.
With my first Babi recipe under my belt, I’m definitely going to try out some more. It’s just a matter of deciding between her crumble cake, triplet cookies or tripe soup!