This is my favorite pie, though many people have never heard of it. It is a Lowcountry classic. It can be made with any of the native American grapes. Some people use cornstarch or instant tapioca to thicken fruit pies—or, worse, wheat flour. Rice flour is tasteless and disappears, utterly transparently, into the fruit juices.

It was the pastry chef Kelly Bugden who taught me how to make perfect piecrust. Alas, I am never satisfied with my results unless I use lard. You may use butter or another solid shortening—or a combination. Be sure to have everything as cold as possible and to maintain the ratio of 4:1 (in weight) for flour to shortening. And avoid touching the dough with your hands, which will toughen it.

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Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 1 pound (about 4 cups) unbleached (all-purpose) flour pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup water, plus ice cubes
  • ¼ pound (about cup) chilled lard (or any combination of chilled lard, shortening, and butter)

For the Filling

  • 4 cups (about pounds) slip-skin grapes such as muscadine, scuppernong, or Concord
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ tablespoon rice flour
  • grated citrus zest and lemon juice (optional)

For the Pie

  • reserved pastry dough and filling
  • milk or half-and-half
  • sugar

Method

To make the crust, sift the flour with the salt and sugar into a large stainless-steel mixing bowl. Add a few ice cubes to the measured water and set aside. Cut the lard into the flour with a pastry blender, a large fork, or 2 knives, until the mixture is uniform and, as the old cookbooks say, resembles small peas. Do not touch the dough with your hands. Place a wet towel under the bowl so that it will not slide around on the counter. Working deftly, scoop up large spoonfuls of the mixture from the bottom of the bowl with a large metal slotted spoon while sprinkling water into the mixture a little at a time. Work quickly as you “lift in” the water, stopping before all the water is in. You should stop the second you feel the dough will hold together without more water. Now grab the entire mass of dough in your hands and push it all together into a ball. If the pie filling is ready, wrap the dough in some wax paper or plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes; otherwise, put the wrapped dough in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the fruit.

To make the filling, pulp the grapes by squeezing them over a non- reactive pot. Reserve the skins. Cook the pulp over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, just enough to loosen the seeds. Press the pulp through a colander to remove the seeds. Combine the pulp with the skins, sugar, and rice flour. If the grapes are very sweet, such as ripe Concords, you may add a little citrus peel and juice for flavor. The skins of scuppernongs, however, are very tart on their own.

Preheat the oven to 450°. To assemble the pie, remove the pastry dough from the freezer or refrigerator and place on a large lightly floured surface. Try not to touch it with your hands. Roll it out evenly to a thickness of inch. Place a 9-inch pie plate on top of the dough and, with a blunt knife, cut across the dough so that an area large enough to fill the pie plate is marked off as one large piece. Set the pie plate off to the side. Place the rolling pin on one edge of this large piece of dough, and gently roll it up off the surface and onto the pin. Lay the dough down in the pie plate, allowing it to roll off the pin, always avoiding handling the dough. Press it lightly into place, allowing any excess dough to hang over the sides. Fill with the fruit.

Cut the remaining dough into long strips and gently make a lattice top on the pie. Run a sharp knife blade at an angle around the rim of the pie plate, trimming off excess dough. Brush the top of the piecrust lightly with milk or half-and-half, then crimp the edge of the piecrust down with a large fork. Sprinkle the pie lightly all over with a little sugar, place in the middle of the oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 350° and bake for another 20 or 30 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned all over. Be sure to bake the pie well so that the crust will not be soggy. If you have clear glass pie plates, you can leave the pie in until the bottom has begun to brown. Don’t worry about the timing. All ovens and batches of flour bake differently. Bake the pie until it is a rich golden brown, and it will be delicious. Allow the pie to cool to lukewarm before serving. Do not serve this pie with cream, or you will mask the distinctive grape flavor.

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