Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Recipe That Almost Died

I have a passion for making recipes that my grandmother, Tom, cooked for our family. Tom and I documented her recipes during her late nineties (when she felt more like an average 70-year-old). But there is one recipe I never approached until now. I'm not sure why I almost let this recipe die with her. Maybe I was scared and maybe it was painful. My sweet, sweet grandmother died in January 2003. Two weeks ago was the first time I tasted her incredible Scuppernong Hull Pie since she’s been gone.

Her pie recipe was personal, distinct, historical, and only Tom had made this pie. The house I grew up in had a glorious scuppernong arbor in the backyard. It had been there for decades and the vine that emerged from the black soil was as large as my thigh. On warm fall afternoons, the sweet smell of the golden grapes filled even the screen porch when the breeze blew towards the house.

Fall always brought some long awaited pleasures. Most importantly, it ushered in the recipe that was worth waiting a year to taste. As children, my sister and I would help the grown-ups by taking empty bowls out to the arbor and fill them slowly, one little orb at a time. Each and every one of us picked the grapes for one purpose and one reason only. The pie.

I remembered the pie like my last bite was yesterday. The crust was flaky, tender, unsweetened and the perfect companion for the sugary filling. The hulls were overly sweet, with a tinge of sourness when they were crushed between my teeth. No pulp, no fancy stuff, just hulls and sugar.

A few weeks ago, I bit the bullet, sucked up my hesitation, and bought some scuppernongs. My parents sold the house we still call home, and unfortunately, the arbor went with it. I found some scuppernongs (a type of muscadine native to the South) from my local co-op. I pulled out Tom’s handwritten recipe from the safe-deposit box, made a copy that could get dirty, and got to work.

I knew no matter what, my pie would not be as good as the ones that Tom brought over, still warm from her oven. In the last two weeks, I have made the pie several times over, cried a few tears, purchased more and more scuppernongs, and missed Tom with each bite.

I not only satisfied a craving that was years in the making, but I also connected with the past and one of the most important people in my life. Pick up a family recipe and share.

Tom’s Scuppernong Hull Pie


8 cups (2 1/2 pounds) scuppernongs

2 cups sugar


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup Crisco shortening

1/3 cup ice water

1 large egg, beaten

2 tablespoons water

To make the filling, place about 8 grapes at a time in a stockpot or deep mixing bowl. Use a potato masher to squeeze grapes, a few a time. The pulp (containing seeds) should be squeezed out. Transfer the hulls to a mixing bowl. Leave the pulp and any juice in the stockpot as you squeeze more grapes. Continue to mash all the grapes. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of hulls.

Pour the pulps and juice through a fine strainer. You should have about 1 cup of juice. Add enough water to the juice to make 2 cups. Reserve pulps for another use.

Combine the hulls, juice, and water in a clean stockpot over medium heat. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add sugar to the hull mixture. Simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes. The hulls will look like preserves. The mixture will be thickened and syrupy. Remove from the heat and cool completely. The filling can be made up to one day ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator.

As the filling cools, make the piecrust. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Use a pastry blender to cut the shortening into the flour mixture. Sprinkle in ice water and stir just until all the flour is damp. Gather into two equal-sized mounds and wrap each mound in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Working with one mound at a time (leaving the other mound in the refrigerator) roll out dough on a floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Trim the dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Pour the cooled filling into the crust. Roll out second dough mound on a floured surface to 12-inch round and place on top of the filling. Trim the edges to 1/2 inch. Press the edges of the dough together, fold edges under, and use 3 fingers to flute the edges.

Whisk together egg and 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the top crust lightly with egg mixture. Use a very sharp, small knife to cut slits in the center of the crust for the pie to vent.

Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the crust is browned, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes: 1 (9 inch) pie

Copyright © 2010 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC


Gretchen_Howard said...

What a great and inspiring read.

Rebecca Lang said...

Thank you Gretchen! Tom was an inspiring woman.

Sandy Q said...

Such a sweet story. Your grandmother was a fantastic cook, I am sure. I absolutely love HULL Pie. Got my similar recipe from BETTER HOMES AND GARDEN COOKBOOK many years ago because of a dear, older friend who loved this pie. I grew up with a scup. bush outside of my bedroom window in the south. Thanks for sharing your memories.

Marly said...

I agree this is such a wonderful story. I have a passion for names (which is why I have a site called Namely Marly) and I must ask - how is it that your grandmother was named Tom? I know there must be a great story there!

Rebecca Lang said...

I'll have to look up the BH&G hull pie. Recipes for these pies are pretty rare. With the grapes right outside the window, you know what wonderful fragrance they have.

Rebecca Lang said...

I am asked about Tom's name pretty often. Her last name was Thomas. When she was younger, she kept several children in town and they called her Tom Tom or Miss Tom. So, when my sister and I were able to talk, we called her Tom too. When her obituary ran in the paper, we listed Miss Tom in quotes after her full name to make sure everyone would know it was her.
You're right - there's always a story.

Edie Shaw-Ewald said...

Food makes a powerful memory - lovely story and beautifully written!

Rebecca Lang said...

Thank you Edie! I truly appreciate your compliments.

Jennie said...

Rebecca, as usual your recipe for scuppernong pie is so much more than a formula with instructions. It is your beautiful way of sharing your beloved Tom with us. I'm glad you dusted off that recipe, and if I ever come across a scuppernong bush, you know what I'll be making. Oh, and your crust looks so delicate and flaky, I almost took a bite out of my monitor!

Rebecca Lang said...

Jennie - You always say the nicest things! Thank you. I was drinking some water when I read about you almost biting the monitor. I had a close call on choking for a second.
I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

bebek cilek said...

Hi Rebecca, aww... I remember Tom Tom quite well and as I read your post, it brought back many memories of playing at her house after school! I remember your other grandmother too - Sara, right (if my memory serves me)? I remember catching butterflies at her house and also making mud pies which kind of makes sense now considering your career! I also remember that your other grandmother often made food too...did you save her recipes also? I have many memories of both your grandmothers and being at their houses after school! Glad to find you on here! Hope things are well!
:) Katy Middlebrooks

Rosemary said...

I just picked this wonderful fruit from our vines! I am going to make Tom's pie....what a wonderful memory and tribute to a generation who threw out nothing! Thanks for sharing.

This comment has been removed by the author.

I'm in Texas with no vines. When I go to the grocery store my choice is red/green grapes with or with seeds. I want to make this recipe but you see my problem. Will it work using "green seedless grapes" as opposed to the variety you have? Use email svaughan1945@yahoo please.

Nancy Bedgood said...

I can not answer the grape question for the muscadine grapes have seeds too.I have a similar recipe and this is wonderful.Thank you for posting.

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elston said...

I grew up in New England (northern Rhode Island when I was a boy). In the back of our house along the mill pond there were old maple trees that had been blown down in a hurricane; they kept growing horizontally and had become an arbor for wild concord grapes. As a boy we used to pick and squeeze them into our mouths (and spit seeds at each other). When Mom saw the grape stains on our t-shirts she would send us out with blueberry pails and mixing bowls to pick the luscious purple fruit. I never knew her recipes but the smell of those grapes cooking down filled the kitchen. Mom made lots of grape jelly and grape jam and put it by for the winter....and she made a grape pie with the hulls....just like you describe.....although it was indescribable in flavor. I hadnt thought of that pie for years...many many years....but I now live in Florida and today I bought Muscadine grapes at first reaction was that the skin was awfully thick and tough...but the pulp was sweet and delicous.....and then it hit me...........these muscadine skins are like the wild grapes of my boyhood and then I thought of Mom's pies. Thank You for triggering such pleasant memories.

Rebecca Lang said...

Thank you Elston! It's amazing how tastes stay with us all of our lives. I'm so glad you enjoyed the grapes growing up like I did.

Jan said...

I LOVE this story! I bought a late 1800/s quilt in Myrtle Beach, made by a woman named "James" from Arkansas. Now this explanation of your grandmother's name helps me to understand the name "James". Her grandson, or great grandson told me that she had made hundreds of quilts, and he couldn't keep them all, but it was made in a time when it was the duty and pleasure of women to make quilts out of scraps of material they had used to make clothes. We have a scuppernong arbor, and I think I'm going to try your recipe. Although other recipes say to cook the grapes, and then get the seeds out. If the picture accompanying your recipe is of your pie, how did it get purple? Scuppernongs are yellowish/green. THANK YOU for sharing~

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