This luscious juicy grape and blueberry pie with tender flaky crust is the perfect early autumn dessert that you need in your life. (Jump directly to the recipe.)
“Well you know, a lot of those slaves had better lives before they were free.” said my first boyfriend’s stepmother as she passed me a bowl of mixed vegetables. I was 19 years old and stunned at what I had heard. It was the first time I had met my then boyfriend’s family and I was on my best behavior. Or at least trying to be. My boyfriend noticed my uncomfortableness and immediately changed the subject before I could explode or storm out of the room. But the damage was done. I avoided visiting his family after that, and after a serious of dramas that can only be associated with someone in their young 20s, post-college, with your very first significant other, we broke up.
I hadn’t thought much of that incident in the years that have passed. I’m not really in touch with my ex, though I have mutual friends who are Facebook friends with him. It took me awhile to come to terms with the fact that though I wish him the best in life, I don’t have any real desire to have him in my life. He certainly didn’t hold the same views as his step-mom (and in fact, he always disliked her for completely different reasons). But that didn’t mean when we were together that he didn’t occasionally exhibit casual racism, much like all the people I grew up with in suburban St. Louis. It wasn’t until I moved away to San Francisco that I realized it wasn’t normal for folks to compliment me on how well I spoke English or ask me where I was from (spoiler alert: When asked where I was from, I would usually answer with “Chesterfield” a western suburb of St. Louis; it always confused the person asking, as they wanted the answer to be China or Thailand).
When Ferguson happened a few years ago, with the shooting of Michael Brown, I had so many friends say things like “How did this happen?” and “I am so shocked this is happening in this day and age!” I wasn’t. In fact, growing up in St. Louis and going to college there, all I could think was that I was surprised this sort of thing didn’t happen earlier. And actually, it probably did. But we didn’t have social media back then. The most common question in St. Louis when you meet someone new is to ask “Where did you go to school?” meaning what high school did you attend? But what this question REALLY means is “where did you grow up and what’s your social class?” It’s the sort of question you ask to determine if the person you were talking to is “your people.”
I don’t mean to disparage my former boyfriend. We both left St. Louis 20 years ago and as much as I have changed, I’m sure he has too. And every time I go back and visit my old hometown of St. Louis, I’m surprised at how much it has grown as a vibrant cultural city. I have good friends who still live there and I have a strong nostalgia for it. It will always be home to me in a different sort of way that San Francisco is. But when the protests broke out a week ago because another white cop was acquitted of shooting another black man I wonder has anything changed at all?
It reminds me again that I live in a bubble here in San Francisco and my own social media sphere. The outrage that my peers and friends have are obvious to me. But are they obvious to everyone else? When 67% Republicans approve of Trump’s reaction to Charlotteville, I just shake my head. It should be a no-brainer situation to be able to say “Nazis are bad.” But our president couldn’t even do that simple task.
I’ve been spent a lot of time (most of my life actually) trying to figure out why people act the way they that they do. It’s easy to boil it down to fear or anger or ignorance. But simplifications like that seem to stymie conversations, important conversations, that need to be had. Looking back at my young self at that dinner table, I wish I had stopped in the middle of dinner and had a conversation with the woman about slavery, racism and the sort of attitude that is detrimental and degrading to humans, all humans. But I guess that’s something I have to live with, the lost opportunity with her. The lost opportunity for myself to do something right.
As always, when something insane happens in the world (or in my personal life), I retreat to the kitchen and food. I swore I saw Concord grapes at the grocery store the other day. But when I went back, they said they didn’t have it. But I was able to find some small Red Flame grapes which, in some ways, is better. As much as I love Concord grapes, the seeds are a pain to deal with. The Red Flame grapes I found were small, intensely flavored and not quite as jelly-jammy sweet like Concords. More importantly to my inherent laziness the Red Flame grapes were seedless. And as I made the pie crust with my hands, squeezing the butter until it clumped up, I tried to let go and just be in the moment. Drizzling the liquid in the dry ingredients and massaging it until a dough formed. Rolling it out until it’s the right round size. Making the filling and weaving the strips of dough over the top. And then placing it in the oven and waiting patiently as it bakes and browns and bubbles.
And as I slice into the pie, I’m reminded of my ex-boyfriend who inspired this pie. I wish I could have made this pie for his step-mom and explained to her that social justice isn’t like a pie or cake. Just because people of color and minorities ask for civil rights (rights that they should always have had but somehow don’t), doesn’t mean you lose your own rights. Rights aren’t like pie, where the more you slice off and serve, the less others have. Allowing two men to marry doesn’t affect anyone else’s marriage. Not having your car being pulled over and shot because of your skin tone isn’t going to affect someone else’s ability to drive or live a healthy life. And taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee, a confederate general that fought a war to preserve slavery, a statue that Lee and his ancestors never wanted erected in the first place, doesn’t erase the dark time of our history. And as I take my first bite of grape and blueberry pie, I close my eyes and savor the moment I’m in and hope to do better. We all need to do better.
Grape and Blueberry Pie
By Irvin Lin
The idea of a grape pie is inspired by the memory of my former ex-boyfriend, the one I mentioned above. It was one of the desserts that his mom (not the step-mother but his biological mom) made and he loved. He always raved about how great it was, but he was never able to find it. It’s not super common which is too bad. Most grape pies you find are made with Concord grapes but I used Red Flame grapes, which are seedless. I paired it with blueberries, which have a little more natural pectin in them, as well as adds an extra dimension of flavor with their spice and earthiness. Try to find grapes that are smaller in size, as they will be more intense in flavor, less watery and match in size with the blueberries. If you substitute a different grape, I’d recommend a red or black grape instead of a green one to match the blueberry color. And make sure the grapes you use are seedless (or you’re spend half your time de-seeding them). Also be sure check the bake time, as you may need to bake the pie longer for the filling to set. If the crust starts to brown too much, and the filling isn’t set, just cover the crust with aluminum foil until the filling is bubbling.
3 1/2 cups (490 g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon white granulated sugar
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (300 g or 2 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/3 cup ice cold water
1/3 cup vodka
3 cups (455 g or 1 pound) Red Flame grapes
3 cups (455 g or 1 pound) blueberries
1 medium apple, peeled, seeded and grated through the coarse hole in the box grater
3/4 cup (150 g) white granulated sugar
1/4 cup (35 g) tapioca flour (or cornstarch)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Extra flour for sprinkling on rolling surface
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoon sparkling or granulated white sugar
1. Make the crust dough by placing the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut up the butter into 1/2 inch chunks, sprinkle over flour and toss to coat. Flatten the cubes of butter with your fingers until all the butter has been smashed. Start rubbing and squeezing the butter together with your fingers, until the ingredients start to clump together. Sprinkle the water and vodka over the mixture and toss with a fork until it forms a dough. If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour and fold it in, but the dough is meant to be moist. If the dough seems to dry, sprinkle an additional tablespoon or 2 of water into the dough. Split the dough in half and gather one portion together and flatten into a large 1/2-inch thick disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and repeat with the rest of the dough. Place in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight.
2. Once the dough has chilled, make the filling by placing all the ingredients in a large bowl and gently mixing to make sure all ingredients are completely coated.
3. Roll out one disk of dough to 10-inch round circle on a clean surface liberally dusted with flour and then fit it into a 9-inch deep dish pie pan. Pour the grape and blueberry filling into the pie crust. Roll out the other dough of disk to the same size and cut into strips. Place the longest strip of the second pie dough over the filling in the center and turn the pie 90˚ and place the second longest strip perpendicular to that in the center of the pie. You should have an “X” on the pie. Turn another 90˚ and place the third and fourth strips of dough on the right and left of the center strip. Now turn another 90˚ and place two more strips of dough, lifting up the strips to “weave” the strips above and below the placed strips. Continue until you have topped the entire pie, saving the short pastry strips for the ends of the pie top. Decoratively crimp the sides of the pie, folding the ends of the top crust into the edges.
4. Place the pie in the freezer for 20 minutes to let the crust chill. While the pie chills, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Once the pie has chilled, place on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips. Beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water, and brush over the top of the pie crust. Sprinkle sugar over the top of the pie and bake 20 minutes at 400ºF. Reduce heat to 350ºF and continue to bake 60 to 80 minutes or until the filling is bubbling hot. Check the pie halfway through the baking. If the crust is starting to brown too fast, cover with aluminum foil to prevent burning. Serve warm or at room temperature, but definitely let it cool for a bit for the filling to set up.
Makes 1 pie, serves 8-10 people.