Here’s my Muscadine Grape Hull Pie, juicy and wonderful, worthy of the time it takes. I love the old-school way it uses everything but the seeds.
A North Carolina Treasure
This pie is an heirloom well worth dusting off and setting out in a place of honor at today’s table. Made with a dedication to thrift and flavor, it uses the thick, sturdy hulls of the muscadine grape. This unusual grape, which is native to North America, no longer has instant recognition from North Carolina and South Carolina people.
Nonetheless, it’s still thriving both out in the wild, and in the marketplace, where many supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and fruit stands carry domesticated varieties. You’ll also see scuppernongs, the bronze-green variety tended on backyard grape arbors throughout the upper South.
Unique Among the Grapes of the World!
You’ll find them referred to as slipskin grapes, since a firm squeeze on a plump, ripe grape causes the juicy seed-filled grape to pop right out. Though muscadine skins are too tough to chew up when eating the grapes out of hand, thrifty and flavor-conscious cooks figured out how to make use of them along with the grape pulp.
They separated skins from pulp, and then cooked the pulp just enough to squeeze out and discard the big round seeds. Then pulp and hulls were cooked with sugar, a bit of flour, and butter, to make a thick, juicy pie.
I love the thrift of this pie; the cherishing of a special ingredient which to this day shows up once a year, in its late summer-early fall season, to bestow its rotund yet petite juicy beauty upon us, complete with substantial hulls and seed-studded pulp. I see women who wanted to capture every drop, every chew, every pleasing nourishing bit of this gift, and took the time to pop grapes out of hulls and discard the oversize seeds to make a marvelous, unique homespun pie that extended our ability to feast on these indigenous fruity orbs.
Between the steps involved in preparation, the shortness of their season in early fall, and the challenges for most cooks of even finding these heirloom grapes nowadays, muscadine grape hull pie is under-known and under-appreciated. Through the first half of the 20th century, this pie was a common Southern home dessert from late summer through early fall.
What’s in a Name, Grape-wise?
Muscadine is the name of these native grapes which still delight us here in North Carolina each fall. Both colors, deep purple and bronze-golden-green, are muscadines. The purple ones are called muscadine, and the bronze ones are called scuppernongs. Their tastes are distinct and I adore both of them. My muscadine grape hull pie comes out deliciously and beautifully whether you use all purple, all bronze, or a combination of the two.
What sets these grapes apart?
Their shape is round as a ping pong ball, but smaller. Their skin is thick and juicy, full of flavor but very thick. Many people bite down on a whole muscadine grape to pop the pulp loose from the skin. Then we delicately remove (or spit out, depending on location and atmosphere) the skin or hull, and chew the juicy sweet delicious pulp, sending forth the seeds as well, since they are quite large.
These grapes grow differently from the red and green grapes we know so well. They grow individually, on a vine, rather than in bunches. Seeing them hanging on a vine in the woods like Christmas ornaments is a great joy to me, and a wonder.
More Great Grape Info and More Pie Ideas!
Here’s an excellent feature on these grapes by Tanya Ballard Brown from NPR ‘s culinary series, The Salt. To read it, click HERE.
And check out this story from Our State magazine, on the Mother Vine, the stunningly enormous and ancient muscadine grape vine still thriving on the North Carolina coast. To read it, click HERE.
Muscadine grape hull pie comes out saucey, much like a cobbler, so consider serving it in shallow bowls. Ice cream, whipped cream, or a splash of half and half or evaporated milk to put that sauce to good use. For a quicker route to pie happiness, try my Sweet Corn Custard Pie or one of my chess pies: The Southern classic, Classic Chess Pie, or my irresistible Chocolate Chess Pie.
Here’s a quick little video about these unique native grapes, the only grape indigenous to North America
- 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 bits
- 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.