Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen: Southern Pies

I’m thrilled that Nancie McDermott is our guest blogger today. She’s authored so many best-selling cookbooks for Chronicle over the years, including Real Thai, Quick & Easy Chinese, and Southern Cakes. Her most recent book is Southern Pies, and the recipe featured below is a perfect Labor Day Weekend dessert.

Are you a pie lover, and if so, do you make your own crust? Are you intimidated by pie baking, and go the easy route by using a store-bought crust? Have you ever made a grape-filled pie before? Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of Southern Pies I’ll be rewarding at random next week.

Muscadine grapes love the southeastern United States, and we love them right back. They’ve been growing wild here for more than four hundred years, from the coastal plains through the Piedmont, up and over the Great Smoky Mountains and down the other side toward the West. Here in North Carolina, families have cultivated muscadines on grape arbors out in the back yard forever, partly for the beauty and shade they bring from late summer into the autumn, but mostly for the multiple pleasures of this sweet, rotund, and hardy grape. Scuppernongs are the golden-colored members of the muscadine family, green-tinged to bronze, and particularly prized here in my part of North Carolina. I love the Latin name, Vitis rotundifolia, but you’ll more commonly find them referred to as slip-skin grapes, since a firm squeeze on a plump, ripe muscadine causes the juicy seed-filled pulp to pop right out of its durable and sturdy skin. Easy to eat they are not — between their thick skin and profusion of substantial round seeds inside, muscadine grapes haven’t made the cut for handy-dandy speedy-quick grab-and-go snacking in our modern-day seedless-watermelon world. But they’ve stayed right here at home, alive and well, thriving in rural communities and cultivated for commercial uses, including the production of sweet wines.

Muscadine grape skins are quite tough. Some people eat the skins, and many people do not. I grew up popping the whole grape in my mouth and retrieving the skins and seeds as I went along, discarding the latter two, and feasting on the former. It’s absolutely fine and common to eschew skin and seeds, or to eat them. About the only absolute is that everybody loves the pulp. Cooking them is another matter: Thrifty and flavor-conscious cooks figured out long ago how to make use of the the skins, along with the grape pulp. They popped the grapes out of their skins into a bowl, catching the juice and saving the skins or hulls, and then cooked the pulp just enough to squeeze out and discard the big round seeds. Then pulp and hulls were cooked together into jelly, fermented into wine, or simmered with sugar, a bit of flour, and butter, to make a thick, juicy double-crust or lattice-topped pie.

Between the steps involved in preparation, the shortness of muscadine’s season in early fall, and the challenges for most cooks of even finding these heirloom grapes nowadays, not everyone knows and loves this fine and practical pie. It lost its status as a common Southern home dessert, somewhere between the fading-away of telephone party-lines and the proliferation of ATM’s. Muscadine and scuppernong grapes are still out there, and you can help bring this pie back, in the South and beyond. Seek out muscadine and scuppernong grapes in farmers’ markets and at roadside stands throughout the South, as well as in grocery stores and specialty food stores, through the first half of the fall until a good frost shuts them down. For this pie, I found deep purple muscadine grapes at the local Whole Foods market, from a commercial grower in Georgia.

Muscadine Grape Hull Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (store-bought or see Butter Pie Crust recipe below)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups muscadine grapes (about 2 pounds), rinsed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or cider vinegar or white vinegar
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place bottom crust into a pie pan, with the edge of the piecrust hanging over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and stir with a fork to mix them well.

Holding it over a medium bowl, squeeze a grape with its stem end down, so that the pulp pops out and falls into the bowl. (If the pulp doesn’t pop right out with only a squeeze, cut the stem ends off the grapes and discard the ends. Then squeeze the grape and the pulp should pop right out.) Set the hulls aside in a bowl, and place the grape pulp and juices into a medium saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook until the pulp has soften and begun to break down, so that the seeds can be easily separated, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl let cool until you can handle them. Work through the bowl of pulp, extracting and discarding the large round seeds.

Add the grape hulls to the saucepan, and continue cooking to soften the hulls, for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar mixture. Pour the grape filling into the piecrust. (Do not overfill it. Reserve any excess and make a small pie in a custard cup, or cook just the fruit as a simple pudding to eat with cream.) Scatter the bits of butter over the pie filling, and cover with the top crust. Press hard all around the pie to seal up the crust. Crimp the edges or press them with the tines of a fork to seal it well. Make slits in the top of the pie so that juices can bubble up and steam can escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil, so that any juices have somewhere to go besides the bottom of the stove.

Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until the filling is thickened and bubbling hot, and the crust is nicely browned, 40 to 50 minutes. Set the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel, and let it cool completely.

Sandra Gutierrez’s Butter Piecrust
Makes two 9-inch single piecrusts or one 9-inch double piecrust

My friend and fellow food writer Sandra Gutierrez generously shared her butter piecrust recipe, which provides butter’s delicious flavor and a rich texture. As with any piecrust, the colder your ingredients, the more delicate and pleasing your pastry is likely to be. This recipe is made in a food processor; you could also use a pastry blender or two table knives to cut the butter and shortening into the flour.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour and salt; pulse for 10 seconds. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some small lumps, 30 to 40 seconds.

Add 3 tablespoons of the ice water and the vinegar and pulse 5 to 7 times, until the dough just barely holds together in the workbowl. Add another tablespoon or two of ice water if needed just to bring the ingredients together. Turn it out onto plastic wrap and pat the dough into two separate disks; refrigerate them for at least 1 hour. Set 1 or 2 disks out at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling.

Roll out 1 of the dough disks on a lightly floured surface, to a circle about 1/8 inch thick and 10 inches wide. Carefully transfer it into a 9-inch pie plate. Press the dough gently into the pan and trim away any excess dough, leaving about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pie pan. Fold the edges up and over, and then crimp the edges decoratively. Or press the back of a fork into the pastry rim, working around the pie to make a flat edge marked with the tines of the fork. If not filling the crust soon, refrigerate it until needed.

To make the crust in advance, wrap it well in plastic and refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 2 months.

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  • Kim McM August 31, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    My name is Kim and I am pie-crust-challenged. I am not so much a fan of unsweetened pie crust and I think it knows it and refuses to turn out good. I love a good pie that someone else bakes, and would like to be a better pie baker myself.


    • S D Clyde October 6, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      Kim, thanks for sharing your completely useless opinion. I kept reading in hopes you would say you tried it anyway and loved it…but no. I did make the recipe. It’s as classic a scuppernong pie as you can get. A favorite around the South in October with old time rural families where most every house has a scuppernong or muscadine vine planted by their great grandmother. This is pure grape flavor and I urge you to try it…even if you have to resort to store bought pie crust. Remember though, that this calls for scuppernong or muscadine…not seedless table grapes


  • Nicole August 31, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Pie is my absolute favorite dessert and the one thing I often crave! Every Sunday after church growing up, my family would all get together at my grandpa's house and feast on coffee, pastries and pie, so it runs in the family:) I started making my own pies a couple of years ago, including the crust, so I'm always on the lookout for new recipes!! And no, I have not tried grape pie, but it sounds highly delicious–I'm partial to anything with berries or rhubarb, so I need to expand my pie-making horizons!


  • Cupboard Love August 31, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    I'm a chicken so I always buy ready made crusts – one of these days though, I'm going to take the plunge!


  • Patt Hull August 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Pies are the perfect way to say hello to the fall .This looks like a great confidence builder.


  • Hilary August 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Mmmm … pie! My mom makes splendid pies, and my sister seems to have gotten that gene, but I haven't gotten the hang of it. I'd been considering grape pies for some grapes that will be showing up in my CSA share soon. Maybe I'll give this a try!


  • Leslie Limon August 31, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I love to bake pies from scratch, including the crust!

    I never would have thought to bake a grape pie. Can any kind of grape be used or just muscadines?


  • Emily August 31, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Crust is my favorite part of pie, and that crust design is beautiful.


  • Liz August 31, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I love the idea of using a local ingredient like grapes to make a perfectly beautiful pie! I would love to own this book!!


  • Crystal August 31, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    This pie crust is amazing!!!


  • Allison C August 31, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I love me some pie! I try to make my own pie crust, but I have to admit I have in a pinch bought it. Maybe it is because I don't have the right recipe….


  • Erin August 31, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    I'm terrible at making crust—I'd love to win so I can improve my skills!


  • Karen September 1, 2011 at 6:55 am

    One of my favorite pies is the wet-bottom shoo-fly pie (Pennsylvania Dutch). However, I've tried to make it and I can't seem to get the topping right! It seems like such a simple pie to make….


  • AMWestbrooks September 1, 2011 at 9:11 am

    This is so fantastic! Nancie & I were tweeting during the season finale of No Reservations, filmed in Louisiana, and talked about these grapes being in season right now. I had no idea! I planned a mission to find some this weekend and try making pate de fruits out of them. Now I have a second reason. PIE. Which is good, because pate de fruits experimenting can be heartbreaking… now I have an alternative it things go badly. And who doesn't like pie, honestly? 🙂


  • Lindsay September 1, 2011 at 11:08 am

    We always like to make a pi pie on pi day, March 14th. Though I believe pie should be eaten not just on pi day, but everyday.


  • Tamiko September 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Shauna taught me how to make pie crust, just this summer!


  • June September 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I love pie! Not sure I've ever seen Muscadine grapes, but if I can find some, it will be time for a pie.

    Making good pie crusts is just a matter of practice. After while you get the "feel."


  • jwlucasnc September 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Oh Nancie. That pie is so lovely. Between you and Sandra, I just might find the courage to make my own pie crusts!

    Best, Jill


  • deepseapearl September 2, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    oh man—I love pies and I love Southern cooking. Looks like the perfect book for me!


  • margaret norfleet September 4, 2011 at 6:35 am

    Love to make pies and am always petrified of making crust but keep trying! Cannot wait to try the muscadine hull pie and more – yummo! Thanks for putting all of that great info and fun in your new book!


  • Uncatim September 4, 2011 at 6:45 am

    There are cake people & there are pie people – as for me, keep the cake. I can't wait to read this book.


  • Joyce Pinson September 4, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Love Muscadines in pies and in my wine glass! Giggles The "perfect" pie crust makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing!


  • Rhonda September 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I’m always so afraid to bake my own crust so I can’t wait to get a copy of this book to help me. And, the author is also an amazing person so it just has to be a great book! Excited to try a recipe!


  • Jennifer September 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    What a beautiful crust! I wish mine turned out so pretty….perhaps I'll try again. You certainly make it look easy.


  • gabrielle September 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I'm both shocked and excited to hear of a Southern pie I've never experienced before! Thanks, Nancie! I can't wait to try this one. I love Muscadine grapes!


  • VeganTriangle September 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I always make my own crust, but I’ve never made a grape pie! Now I need to make sure I get all those grapes home (instead of eating them on the way) so I can make it! Great timing with this recipe by the way! Very convenient that these grapes are starting to come in at the local farmer’s market!


  • NancyO September 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    This is great – my 25 year old daughter made muscadine jelly and muscadine grape hull pie when she was visiting us last summer. We ordered extra muscadines from our fabulous CSA, Moore Farms.


  • Sharon September 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I never really got the appeal of pies until I moved to the South. Now it seems wrong to go without a slice pecan or chess pie every few weeks. It would be great to learn how to make them myself!


  • Heather Diane September 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I grew up in North Carolina and ate muscadine grapes my whole life, but I didn't know you could make them into a pie! Thank you for the recipe!


  • Lindsey September 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Can never get crusts quite right. Would love this book 🙂


  • Louis Higgins September 4, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    the grape pie sounds delicious. I had my first sour cream and raisin pie a couple weeks ago–in Amish country–wow!

    I don’t mind making crust. But I HATE rolling it out. I’m always making a mess.


  • jen September 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I love pies, but don’t have much experience baking them or many recipes in my files. Also, I am raising my boys in the South and could use a little help 🙂 Thanks!


  • Elysa September 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Hi! I'd love a copy of Southern Pies…it would be my very first Chronicle book!


  • Lorin Gaudin September 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Nothing better than a good pie…This is my year to “master” the pie…your guidance greatly appreciated!


  • Lisa Schweizer September 4, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I love pies! My favorite are Mountian blackberry, peach, & apple, but my husband’s favorite is a frozen yogurt fruit pie. But I am always on the lookout for a new recepie. I would be so excited to try out the re wooed in this book!


  • Kate September 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I ate some pie tonight, made with homemade apple and cinnamon filling and my mom's delightfully flaky homemade crust. I made sure to save some for breakfast. 🙂


  • Janine Lieber September 5, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    I’m extremely intimidated by pie-baking. Remember my mother telling me how important a good crust was to making a good pie. Even with having watched her bake, and using her recipes, I’ve never been able to create a decent crust.


  • Nelly Rodriguez September 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Gorgeous crust! I am a pie lover and also love savory pies!


  • Peter September 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    The winner of "Southern Pies" by Nancie McDermott is…Lindsey! Thank you kind and wonderful and interesting commentators! Now go bake some pie.


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