|If you ever get the chance to do something nice for Michelle Van Vorhis, jump on the opportunity.
Michelle Van Vorhis with her grape pie. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Your taste buds will never regret it.
"I pay back favors with pies - black raspberry and grape," Van Vorhis admitted.
Her grape pies, made with locally grown concord grapes, are especially memorable since very few bakers seem to make them. Besides, she uses a recipe with a buttery crumble topping that perfectly enhances the rich grape filling, leaving guests and friends wistfully wishing for more when the pie is but a fond memory.
Van Vorhis is something of a superwoman these days. She's a partner in the Toledo law firm of Zoll, Kranz & Borgess (Kranz is her maiden name), which means appearing in court one day, spending the next in Columbus, then speeding back to take a deposition for another case.
At the same time she's mother to a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, and a surprisingly traditional young country wife to Wood County native Dean VanVorhis at their Mitchell Road home. They married and settled near Bowling Green in 2000.
It was Dean, a John Deere implement dealer, who got Michelle Van Vorhis into a regular groove of baking grape pies.
"One day a customer gave my husband a bag of grapes. I knew as soon as he brought them into the house they were concord grapes" and what she could do with them.
That customer was Hugh Sheline, whose own arbor dates from the 1950s and thus proves how long-lived concord grape vines can be.
The gift of grapes tickled long-submerged memories.
"Growing up, neighbors of ours always had a grape arbor two miles away. So we always had concord grapes every fall," said Van Vorhis, who grew up in Springfield, Ohio.
Sheline continued to make sure Van Vorhis got a supply of grapes each year during harvest season, running from mid-August to mid-September, and "helped us to establish our own arbor. He showed Dean how to prune them and care for them," but fell into declining health last year.
The last pie she made for Sheline, prior to his death, was "probably two weeks before Christmas."
"His widow made a point of getting us some grapes this year, so we are still using the Shelines' concord grapes" since their own arbor is not yet producing.
So as to be able to make pies throughout the rest of the year, Van Vorhis freezes her grapes in batches. "I'll take the skins off, cook the pulp and vacuum seal it in five-cup increments. I do that with black raspberries, too."
It doesn't strike her as hard work.
"There isn't a whole lot I can't can and freeze - tomato, salsa, green beans, and also meat we get canned." She freezes corn and a variety of fruit, including apples, grapes, strawberries and black raspperries, the latter two to be made into jams.
Her favorite recipe for grape pie comes from her mother, a home economics teacher. She acquired it "from my 4-H club adviser," also a home-ec teacher and in fact, the childhood neighbor with the grape arbor.
Most people have the identical first reaction to grape pie: "Ooh, isn't it too sour?"
Van Vorhis assures them it is not, and her pie fans are multiplying rapidly. Among the most enthusiastic are the folks at Belleville's Meat Market as well as Plain Township trustee Jim Avery.
"Those are two people we've paid back favors with grape pie, which makes it very easy to borrow something again!"
If only her own son Marcus, the 5-year-old, liked mom's grape pie as much as his "adventurous" little sister, Samantha, "who will try anything."
"Their personal favorite of mine is homemade chocolate chip cookies - without the chips!"
4 cups of Concord Grapes
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tlb. lemon juice
1 1/2 Tlb. melted butter
Remove sinks from grapes and set aside.
To remove seeds, bring grape pulp to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes (stir occasionally to prevent scald).
Press pulp through a sieve into a bowl to remove seeds. Add skins to pulp.
Mix all remaining ingredients with pulp and skins
Place in single pie crust. Using a deep dish pie plate for cooking is recommended.
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
Mix flour and sugar. Cut in butter.
Sprinkle on top of pie. Cook at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.
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