NC Pie Series: What comes at the end is always remembered: the goodnight kiss, the famous last words, the three-point shot at the buzzer, the homemade pie following a fine meal. What’s a plate of flounder in Calabash or oysters on the Outer Banks without a slice of lemon meringue, served on a Styrofoam plate with a plastic fork? Can you imagine a rib eye at the Angus Barn in Raleigh without the grand finale — that famous chocolate chess, drizzled with syrup, dolloped with whipped cream? What of the perfectly fried chicken at Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill, culminating with a slice of sweet potato or pecan? Sure, we love our cakes, cobblers, and banana puddings, but pie provides the sweetest memories.
In 1975 — its inaugural year — Duplin Winery produced 20 cases of wine. Fast-forward to now, and that number leaps to 500,000. Duplin is North Carolina’s oldest winery, and largest by volume. Between Duplin’s own vineyards and its 50-plus family farmers, the winery processed more than 14,000 tons of muscadines during the grapes’ most recent, fleeting September season, as summer reluctantly made way for fall. Some of those grapes, however, never became wine. They became pie.
In 2001, Duplin opened its restaurant, The Bistro. Think fried green tomatoes and crab cake sandwiches, plus Mama Ann’s grape hull pie. Co-owner Jonathan Fussell — part of the third generation to lead the business — says this dessert was such a fixture of his upbringing that he can’t remember a time in his life without it: “It’s been made in this area for a long, long, long time.” Duplin’s recipe comes from Jonathan’s cousin, the late Ann Fussell. While the pie is a regional classic, it’s also difficult to track down — not because folks don’t love it when they try it, but because it’s so labor-intensive to make. Duplin’s recipe features a homemade pastry crust and shiny meringue topping. The filling is the catch: They hand-press the muscadines to separate the thick skin and juicy pulp, then remove the seeds, then — “ ’course, I can’t give you all the details!” Jonathan laughs. “They’re our family secret.”
505 North Sycamore Street
Rose Hill, NC 28458
To try this pie, you’ll have to go straight to the source. But we’ve got home bakers covered, too. This recipe comes to us courtesy of Nancie McDermott, a food writer, cooking teacher, and the author of 10 cookbooks.
Grape Hull Pie
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 cups muscadine or scuppernong grapes (about 2 pounds), rinsed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
Heat the oven to 400º. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust, leaving a 1-inch overhang.
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and salt, and stir with a fork to mix well. Set out a medium bowl and a medium saucepan.
Squeeze the grapes over the saucepan, dropping the pulpy, seed-filled grapes into the pan and placing their thick, sturdy skins, or hulls, into the bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and cook the grape pulp until softened and shiny, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked grape pulp to a strainer and place it over the bowl of grape hulls. Press the grapes through the strainer, pushing the softened pulp into the pan with the hulls while extracting the large, round seeds. Use the back of a large spoon to get as much pulp as possible. Discard the seeds, and transfer the hulls and pulp back to the saucepan. Cook them over medium heat to soften the hulls, about 5 minutes more.
Add the sugar mixture and lemon juice to the grapes and stir to mix everything well. Pour the filling into the piecrust. Sprinkle the small bits of butter over the grape filling, distributing it evenly. Wet the rim of the bottom piecrust to help seal it.
Roll the remaining dough into a 10-inch circle and cover the filling. Trim away the extra pastry extending beyond the rim of the pie pan. Crimp the edges firmly, or press them down with the back of a fork, working your way around the edge of the pie to seal the crust well. Use a sharp knife to cut 8 slits in the top crust, to allow steam to escape and fruit juices to bubble up as the pie cooks.
Place the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet to capture any drips, and place it on the lower shelf of the 400º oven. Bake 10 minutes, and then reduce heat to 350º. Bake until the crust is a handsome, golden brown and the grape juices are bubbling up through the crust, about 40 to 50 minutes more. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie.