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A Roadside Farmstand: The Importance of Pie In America

“I am just here for the pie.” ~ Unknown


Apple Pie

Introduction

There is nothing better than pie. I love pie! Who doesn’t love pie?! Growing up, summertime family parties always included a lot of berry pies. I remember Auntie Bobbi rolling out the dough for a Strawberry-Rhubarb, a Blueberry, and even Blackberry if I could forage enough up on Shantry Road in Norfolk, Connecticut. Parties meant the family was visiting from Washington, DC, North Carolina, and Louisiana, just outside Natchitoches. My jobs were to help with berry picking, lawn mowing, and ensuring Uncle Buck stayed out of trouble. Maybe, it was me that was supposed to stay out of trouble, it didn’t matter anyhow. Once I arrived with the Blackberries and Rhubarb, I grabbed a colander, washed them down, let them drain off, and dried them with a cotton cloth.


Auntie Bobbi rolled out the pie crust and prepped the pans for baking. Meanwhile, Uncle Mike watched the clock to ensure our welcome committee was ready with a hot grill, salads, and freshly baked pie for the masses, as they entered the Colebrook Townline. We were able to time their commute almost down to the minute. Up the family drive, they rolled, cresting over the first hill past Aunt Mary’s, then past the “Little House” & Lossin Brothers. Down and around by the Beaver Pond and gently sloping right toward the driveway. Family parties and pies were and still are a staple of our culture.


The History of Pie

Pies made it to the United States by the early 1600s, along with America’s first Thanksgiving. Pumpkin Pie was not introduced until the late 1700s. In fact, by the mid-1850s, during the American Civil War, the pie was used as a weapon to eliminate the enemy. The first Cherry Pie was created during the 1500s in England, driving commodity prices upward. Today, post-COVID-19 feels very much the same regarding commodity prices. The average farmstand pie used to cost between $10-18 during the summer and holidays. Those same farm pies now cost between $20-25 per pie.


Farmstand Pie

Drive down any country road, and you will find “piepreneurs” in almost every farmstand. Walk down the path toward the back of most farmstands, and you will find professional bakers cooking up something delicious. They show up at 3 am and warm the brick ovens to 350-450 degrees. While those ovens warm, they chill the butter and prepare the fruit fillings. Each day they make a list of pie fillings and the number of pies to prepare, freeze or bake. Once that is done, they get started on the dough. A very time-consuming job that needs to be managed well. Pastry flour, whole-fat unsalted butter, salt, sugar, and ice-cold water are added. The bakers are hard at work, integrating the butter into the mixture and weaving it to add flavor across the entire crust.


Restaurants that don’t have the extra space or time to bake desserts try to partner with local farmers to buy baked goods. Farmstands reach out to every restaurant in town, offering samples, and ultimately take customer orders. Each day, hundreds of pies are baked in that farmstand commercial kitchen for us all to enjoy!



Apple Pie

Pie Fillings and Tastings

Farmstand bakers work with the farmer to grow fruits with the best flavor. They only use the best-tasting sugar and cultured butter. Balancing the sweetness of a Strawberry with the tartness of Rhubarb and peeling the skin only to get the best pulp. Peaches, apples, berries, and chocolate are used to develop the best-tasting pies possible. Some restaurant customers might request a particular berry or stone fruit varietals: cream pies, Sugar Pumpkins, and even lemons need a solid flavor profile. Sometimes, bakers will call their commercial customers for tastings. They want buy-in before investing in French cultured butter, berries, or other fruits.


Restaurateurs show up for collaboration tastings, identify the best ornamental fruits, and set up a growing contract and commitment to buy a certain amount of pies per year at a set price. Sometimes, they buy far enough in advance to negotiate lower price points. As Digital Marketing becomes increasingly critical, restaurants will advertise those partnerships to drive business back to their farm relationship. The farmstand yields the benefits twice over, and they expand their crop collection beyond the basics.



Pie


Holiday Pies

Early November begins the holiday pie season: rich roasted Pecan, cream pies, and apples. Holiday pie orders triple the workload into six weeks. They call all hands on deck to the family, and even grandma is folding pie boxes, taking orders and deposits for payment on large orders. The restaurant order flow doubles at the same time too. Like harvest, this time of year strains labor resources, yet it is the most profitable.



Lattice Crust


Three Roadside Farmstands Making Delicious Pie


Briermere Farms is a local fruit farm and bakery in Riverhead, NY. They bake over ten flavors of berry and fruit pies daily. They grow all fruit on-site at the farm. They make jams and jellies, shipped all over the United States.


The Virginia Farm Market runs an orchard and bakery farmstand in Winchester, VA. They offer their customers a 10” Mile High Pie and the most fabulous Apple Cider Donuts - Old Fashioned Cake style.


The Verrill Farm is located in Concord, Massachusetts. They have been in operation since 1918 and offer some of the best pies in Massachusetts. Their bakery offers seasonal and holiday pies and baked goods. Berry, Cherry, and Peach are just a few to mention. In the Fall, they make a mean Kentucky Bourbon Pecan.



Wrapping it Up

Pie is essential to our family culture. Problems have been solved, and wars started. But, no matter the gathering, pie brings together people with a spirit for life willing to discuss and solve any problem.

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