A little bit of patience for removing seeds yields delicious baked goods.
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.
In northern Ohio, 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 few weeks, 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.
Grape pie
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 & amp; 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. 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, color and taste are 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 "Joy of Cooking: All About Pies & amp; 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.
French clafouti
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 puddinglike than cakelike.
Most of the ingredients are already in your kitchen except for the fortified wine Madeira.
The Toledo Blade tested this recipe made with, and then without, Madeira. 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.
Coffee cake
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 spokesman. "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 that 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.
4 cups Concord grapes (2 pounds)
1 cup sugar
Dash of salt
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie or pastry for one-crust pie plus optional crumb topping
To make pie: Slip skins from grapes and reserve. Put pulp in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve (or food mill) to remove seeds. Mix pulp with sugar, skins, salt, flour, lemon juice and butter. Pour into pie crust and top with crust or crumb topping. Bake 425 degrees for 10 minutes and 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until pie bubbles.
Cook's note: A faster method of removing the seeds is to cut the grape in half and slip the seeds out with the edge of a paring knife. Any pulp with seeds or juice should still be cooked for 5 minutes before adding to the grape halves and other ingredients.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
Combine and mix until crumbly.
Yield: 1 pie
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons Madeira
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
2 cups thinly sliced tart apples, preferably Granny Smith
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Lightly sweetened whipped cream for garnish
Cook's note: This recipe was tested with and without the 3 tablespoons Madeira; it tastes good either way.
With an electric mixer or in a blender, beat the eggs and sugar together at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Beat in 4 tablespoons of melted butter, then the flour, wine, zest, cinnamon and half-and-half or milk. Let rest 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round or square baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.
Add the apples and grapes. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake 40 to 45 minutes until top is golden brown, lightly puffed, and set.
Serve warm, with a dusting of confectioners' sugar and a dollop of whipped cream.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
-- "The Wine Lover Cooks with Wine"
For pecan streusel:
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
For coffee cake:
Vegetable spray
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
11/2 cups milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
11/2 cups green seedless grapes, halved
Cook's note: Cake may be made one day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan with vegetable spray or lightly butter and flour.
Stir together streusel topping ingredients: butter, pecans, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon until moistened; set aside.
For cake: cream butter and sugar; add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add flour mixture and the milk to the butter mixture alternately, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle topping over batter; cover with grapes. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool 30 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings
-- California Table Grape Commission

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