It was an exciting weekend in Lower Hillsdale Heights.
Saturday was National Pie Day (not to be confused with National Pi Day), and Baker & Spice (Emma’s favorite bakery, and mine too) celebrated its fifth anniversary with pies.
They were everywhere! I encountered smiling neighbors bearing boxed pies as I walked to work. Chocolate cream. Coconut cream. Banana cream. All manner of fruit pies, sweet and juicy, with flakey buttery crusts. As early as 9:30 a.m., a peek into the bakery revealed droves of happy munchers enjoying pie by the slice. Folks were lined up out the door through late afternoon. I sneaked in after work to purchase the next-to-last banana cream tartlet–a mini version of the full-size pie. I ate half of it for lunch that day and enjoyed the remainder for breakfast this morning. It was beyond belief.
Finding decent pie never used to be difficult. Every restaurant in every small town offered great homemade pies. During my childhood, the price usually was 25-cents for a generous slice. I remember the cafe I’d visit in McCall, Idaho the summer we lived there. That was the year I learned about gooseberry pie. On paper day I’d run the aniquated printing press at the newspaper my dad had leased for the summer, then run across the street and treat myself to pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. When the gooseberries ran out, it was time for cherries, huckleberries, and so on through the season.
My mother was an excellent pie baker. She never gave herself enough credit for the delicious cherry pie on George Washington’s birthday, apple pies in October, pumpkin and mincemeat pies at Thanksgiving, and her outrageously good lemon meringue pies during late winter when everyone needed a dose of sunshine. She also made the best huckleberry pie I’ve ever eaten.
When my best friend Colina and I were old enough to drive, we’d stay up until 4 a.m, then visit a little cafe in Payette, Idaho to eat homemade strawberry pie before going back to her place to sleep it off. Colina liked their pie so much she ended up working at the place!
Many years later, in Portland, I became enamored of my Great Aunt Emma’s pear pie. Aunt Emma had a way with crust. She liked to make her pies in the summer and freeze them. When we’d go to dinner at her house she’d bake the pie that day and serve it with thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese. Incredible!
As the world changed and good pie became more scarce, I took it upon myself to get better at baking pies. The secret, as any good pie baker knows, is the crust. For my money, nothing tastes quite as good as an all-butter crust. Julie Richardson of Baker & Spice tells her baking class students that lard makes the best crust, and vegetable shortening comes in second. I use butter. So does Julie, and her pies are magnificent.