Take 1 1/2 tons of grape eyes and skins; add 100 pounds of sugar, 75 pounds of flour, hundreds of hours of labor and several hours of cooking, straining and steaming. Add filling to pie shell, top with fancy lid. Bake. Sell.
In the top photo: With more than 700 pies in the background, and another 300 being baked, Judi Soslowicz and Diane Bruening, volunteers at Geneva’s Assumption Church, hold two of the grape pies that will be sold at the Grape Jamboree this weekend.
That’s the bones of the recipe for tradition in Geneva, where the Grape Jamboree gets under way Saturday morning. One of the most popular booths on the Broadway midway will be that of the Assumption Church, which since the 1960s has making and selling grape pies as a fund-raiser.
The pies are made from locally produced Concord grapes, long the staple of the grape industry in Geneva. Concords still grown in the grape belt are sold through a cooperative to Welch’s, which processes the grapes at a New York facility. But there are always a few parishioners in the church who have vineyards that provide, at no cost, the 40 crates of grapes needed for 1,000 pies.
“We make sure, in March, that we will be able to get the grapes,” says Elaine Slapnicker, who chairs the Grape Pie Committee (yes, there is such a thing). “We could not do this if we had to buy the grapes.
Everett Henry says works out to about 3,000 pounds of grapes. Henry, along with Ray Gruber and Marty Stoltz, donated this year’s grapes.
Each grape that goes into a pie must be pinched, by hand, to release the green innards, referred to as the “eye.” This tedious, time-consuming job began on Monday morning with more than a dozen volunteers sitting at tables covered with newspapers.
“We gossip,” said one of the volunteers when asked what they do to break the boredom.
“We’re all retired here, so this is exciting,” quipped another one.
There would be at least two days of doing nothing but separating the skins from the eyes before the pie shells would be filled and baked starting on Wednesday afternoon. The filling is made by cooking the eyes, then straining the soup to remove the seeds. The strained, cooked eyes are combined with the purple skins, sugar and flour, then steamed for several hours to create the sweet filling.
“It’s done strictly by taste,” says Greta Cordova, who has helped with the project for at least 35 years. She says she loves the grape pies, despite all the work involved in making one.
“They’re good,” she says.
The pie crust is purchased. Volunteers say they simply could not do the project if they also made the crust from scratch. But they add personal touches to each pie by decorating the tops with crosses, grapes and other motifs cut out from dough or cut into the crust using cookie cutters.
The volunteers always make one batch of pies, about 20 to 25 of them, without sugar for those watching their intake. The committee donates five of the pies to the Jamboree for another tradition, the pie-eating contest.
Whole pies ($13 each) are sold from the church on West Main starting Friday afternoon. A slice at the booth will cost $3 this year. The money goes towards the church’s general fund.
Everett Henry says the quality of the grapes is excellent this year, and the Concord harvest was scheduled to begin Wednesday, Sept. 20. That was lucky for him.
“I won’t be here,” he says. “I’ll be working, picking grapes.”