Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Monica's Last Stand

I've blogged before about my love of grape pies, a regional specialty of a certain area of the Finger Lakes. In my opinion, the best pies were made by a woman named Monica. More on her later.

Grape pies are made from either Concord or, if Concords aren't available in your area, red grapes. I was introduced to this specialty around 2015 and have loved them since. Every baker makes them slightly different and the fun is in the tasting.

To truly experience grape pies, one has to attend the Naples (New York) grape festival, held the last weekend in September

Let me give you a virtual taste.

Naples is on the southwest side of Canandaigua Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.  Grapes grow on the Finger Lakes (and along Lake Erie) especially well.

Naples is all about grapes.  The fire hydrants are painted purple. There are commercial vineyards right on Main Street. There are a couple of wineries right along the main street, too.

Front door of Monica's Pies, early September 2022

As you can tell from the architecture, grapes.

Naples has a population of about 900.  Except for the Naples Grape Festival, when the population swells to 20,000 or maybe more.

I think they were all there on Saturday, when we got there.  This was a little later on, when things had thinned out some.

What can I say? It was a festival.  The sidewalks were so crowded you couldn't walk,  The traffic when we got there was, shall we say, jammed.   We expected crowds.  We didn't expect a crush.

Pie signs were everywhere. I understand, in a good year, around 30,000 grape pies are sold at the festival.   Cindy's is a favorite of many people but we hadn't tried her pies.  Cindy is Cindy Trzeciak, a home baker who made some pies around Christmastime, 1978, to make some extra money.  They sold so well, the rest is history.

Here is Cindy's menu.  Many vendors give the choice of frozen unbaked or baked, because you can't freeze a baked pie.  But we didn't have any way to keep a frozen pie frozen.  Cindy calls her take out window "the pie hole".

Another of the great bakers, Jeni Makepeace, recently retired.  I had one of her pies earlier in September - I think her daughter has taken over the business.  Anyway....back to the festival.

I waded my way to the judging tent on the grounds of the high school.  After buying a T-Shirt (purple, of course), I asked one of the judges how they run the judging.  (I was secretly hoping one of the judges was late, and they would choose me to take their place.)  Alas, no.  But the judge explained how they cut the pies into small pieces, put them into cups, and, well, eat them.  

Then the judge showed me the plaque with the names of past winners and invited me to enter next year.

Well, no.  Unless they had a subcategory of worst pie.  Also, grape pies are not easy to make because you have to skin the grapes.  Concords have tough skins.  And, oh yes, seeds.

We ended up buying a pie and cookies from her, and one from another vendor, Jeanne. 

But what about Monica, you ask?  Her name is Monica Schenk.

Monica used to sell her pies year round.  She started to bake them in 1983 as a young mother and eventually opened her own shop on Rt. 21.  We had last been at her shop (which had turned into a takeout window due to Covid) in 2021. At that time she hadn't yet announced she was retiring.

Monica's Pies closed at year's end "for the winter" and never reopened.  When we passed by her store earlier this month, there was a sign saying she had retired.

But it turns out (I found out on Facebook) she was going to be open one last time, for the festival.

And that's it.  It was going to be her last stand.

We drove past Monica's on our way to Naples (it's not within the village) and saw the lines of cars parked along the narrow highway and the lines of people in front of her small shop.

It's nice to be loved, in a way.  But then, people don't let you retire. 

Two lines!

We decided to come back on our way out and, hopefully she would still have pies.  She did.  The lines were much shorter, too.

People were buying (literally) hundreds of dollars of pies (she has, or should I say had, many flavors besides grape).  Maybe some were buying for their entire family?   We bought a pie.  One pie.  

Oh, Monica.  It will be the last one of your pies we eat.  RIP (rest in pie), Monica.

We drove home Sunday, with our precious cargo of three grape pies, which somehow we need to eat before they spoil

Don't tell my Weight Watchers coach, but I'm up to the task. Shhhhh!

If you want the recipe, I took the liberty of getting it from Monica's website, because I fear it will be taken down in the near future. 

Thank you for the several years of pie, Monica.  It was worth driving 120 miles to get one.

Recipe by Monica Kay Schenk
Grape Pie

        4 cups stemmed Concord grapes

        2/3 cup sugar

        3 tbsp. cornstarch

    1 tsp. lemon juice

Slip skins from grapes, saving some of the skins.  Cook middles until soft, put through a sieve to get seeds out. Put back with skins and add sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice.
Fill pie shell and cover.
Bake 400 degrees F for 45 minutes.

Do you like pie?


  1. ...I make grape pies, it's a lot of work.

  2. I’ve never had a grape pie. Sounds good, though

  3. I'd never heard of grape pie before "meeting" you. Also never knew there was a Naples, NY. I'd be interested in trying the pie. And seeing all the purple in Naples.

  4. Pies an me...we're friends! I would SO love this festival!
    BTW, I freeze baked pies all the time. Simply rebake at 400 for about 30 minutes and they taste freshly baked!

  5. I love pie, but this is the first I have heard of grape pie.

  6. I don't know why grape pies sound so strange to me. Maybe not a west coast thing? I saw a recipe in a recent magazine and thought how time consuming (and messy?) to squeeze the grapes out of their skins before cooking. Can you cook them in the skins, and then when you strain them not have seeds or skin? Or, do the skins add something special?

  7. I have never tried grape pies before. Looks very interesting

  8. I have to try a grape pie. But they don't have them around here. I guess I'm just going to have to visit New York...

  9. A grape pie. sounds way too sweet and purple for me.


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