At Old Economy, a pie worth toasting

Wrap your mind, if not your jaws, around this: German grape pie.

"We had a group, the wine society, that tasted the pie. They said it was like eating wine -- the taste of it, the texture, you just felt like you were eating wine," says Roberta Sunstein, museum education supervisor at Old Economy Village, Ambridge. "It's such an unusual flavor. It's a sock to the taste buds in a sense."

Besides having grape pie, the interactive Harmonist village museum in Ambridge will sock it to you in other ways on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, as its decades-old Erntefest is staged. "'Ernte' means, literally, 'after the harvest,' " says Miss Sunstein.

Hands-on is the day's byword, as participants will be able to make and taste apple schnitz (sweetened, dried apples), apple cider, ginger beer, sausage and sauerkraut, among other foodstuffs.

Miss Sunstein says, "The whole premise of the festival is to demonstrate the food preservation that always happened after the harvest," those weeks in late summer and early fall when, in their 19th-century heyday, the industrious Harmonists were putting up food for winter.

Before becoming investors in industries such as oil and railroads, the Harmonists -- Germans who sought religious and economic freedom in the New World -- ran textile factories and practiced agriculture, not only to feed their utopian colony but also for income. They produced wine from the grapes they grew. Founder George Rapp was a vintner and the society's many crops included Concord and Pink Catawba grapes.

The grape pie, says Miss Sunstein, celebrates the wine-making heritage and uses the Concord grapes still grown at Old Economy, which was founded in 1824. The pie-making is a "very long process" that includes skinning the grape, cooking the pulp and separating out the seeds. But, "the reward is there when you taste the pie," she says, although noting its tannins and taste are not for everyone. "It's an adjustment to the mouth, it's such an unusual flavor.

"It's quite delicious."

Staff and volunteers make the pies, taking some tedium out of the process by breaking the work down into increments, as the Harmonists might have done.

This year, volunteers made 50 grape pies that will sell for $10 each, or $2.50 per slice. Last year, with a visit from the National Tourism Association, in Pittsburgh for a convention, they churned out 150 pies. They're also making Harvest Pie, made from apples, pears and dried cranberries.

And while sampling opportunities will be ample at the village, across the street at St. John Lutheran Church will be a schmaus (feast) to remember. Bratwurst, red cabbage, sauerkraut, German potato salad -- Ach du lieber! -- priced a la carte and served from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with tours of the church offered beginning at 10.

Village events also will include games, such as sack races, and das Kinderhaus, a hands-on house of toys and child-sized household items. There will be crafts, exhibits and more demonstrations and try-it-yourself activities such as broom-making.

Miss Sunstein says not to let post-G-20 trauma prevent you from attending. If anything, Old Economy stands as testament to the foundation of economics, she says, from its name to its cooperative operation to its investments in the industries -- agriculture, rail, oil -- that define the Pittsburgh area.

"This is a good way to explore Pittsburgh past," she says.

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children; free to members of Friends of Old Economy Village. Call 724-266-4500 or e-email Web site:

Margi Shrum can be reached at or 412-263-3027.


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