Grape Pie- It's Fingerlaking Good
Updated: Sep 15
Nestled amongst the rolling hills and petite vineyards on the south shore of Canandaigua Lake lies the unassuming Village of Naples New York. At first glance, it has all the quaint pleasantries of any typical Finger Lake downtown, a Main Street dotted with shops, restaurants, a market and even fresh fruit stands. But unlike the other neighboring towns, Naples has a homegrown foodigenous that cannot be found anywhere else in the country. Grape pie, a sweet and sometimes tart dessert made from the locally reaped Concord varietal, has been a delicacy for generations, earning it the title “Grape Pie Capital of the World” which is somewhat ironic considering it’s also the only place to get grape pie, but I digress. From September through October, thousands of visitors flock to places like Cindy’s Grape Pies or Joseph's Wayside Market to get their fill of the amethyst-colored treat. There’s also an annual Naples Grape Festival which celebrates the local harvests and includes a competitive greatest pie contest allowing bakers from all over the area to showcase their best recipes.
After one bite of this pie, it hit me, why isn’t grape pie known everywhere? What’s keeping it out of restaurants in Napa or bakeries in Willamette Valley? With over 3,000 wineries across the country, why is grape being treated like the purple headed stepchild of the pie world?
I Got a Theory
The fact that grape flavored pies are nowhere else in the country seems to be a little suspect. Almost intentional. Is it all part of some sinister plot by the peach pie coalition or blueberry syndicate to box grape out of the market? Or, and I don’t mean to stereotype, is it possible (looks around and whispers) that Naples (you know what I'm saying) is imposing a little influence to keep Grape Pie from leaving. Said with Gandolfini inflection, “if Grape Pie is ever made in another town, they're gonna find themselves in a very sticky sitUATion”. Btw - my Tony Soprano imitation would kill here if I ever did book to tape.
The reality is we do know why, and it has nothing to do with anything Mario Puzo could write. The simple reason is due to the fact that the Concord grape, dare I say the grapiest of grapes, thrives in the Finger Lake climate. When you first bite into a Naples grape pie, it will likely taste familiar; like the jelly your mom used to make your PB&Js with. And your tongue will immediately recognize that tart sensation it would get after taking a sip of Welch's grape juice. It's undeniably grape, which makes for a delicious tasting dessert that's perfectly fruity without being too sweet.
The Concord grape was introduced to Western New York in the 1870's not long after Ephraim Bull basically "created it" from seedlings in the town of Concord Massachusetts. People have been making concord grape pie since the turn-of- the-century but it wasn't until the 1960's that the unique filling went "viral". The story goes that Al Hodges, the owner of the Redwood Restaurant introduced slices of grape pie to his menu. It became so popular that his customers wanted whole pies to take out. He asked Irene Bouchard, a longtime resident, baker and next-door neighbor for assistance and the rest is history. Irene baked 1,000s of pies each year. She sadly passed away in 2015 but her legacy and simple recipe of separated grape skins and pulp, sugar and tapioca continue to live on.
But I can tell you from recent experience, each baker leaves their own essence or fingerprint on their pie. Bair's Vineyard and their roadside stand makes a delicious pie that tastes very much like a homemade jelly. Jeni's (featured above) makes a scrumptious, thicker filling that, as one of my Facebook followers astutely pointed out looks like a deep merlot. Cindy's delicate crust complimented the slightly tannin inside while Bob's "N Ruth's warmed slice a la mode made my soul smile. Each one of these is worth the 4 and half hour drive from Jersey to try. Add this stop to your next trip to Western NY.
NAPLES GRAPE FESTIVAL RUNS SEPTEMBER 23rd & 24th in 2023!