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The Life of Pie

CHERYL TEVIS Updated: 03/26/2014 @ 5:22pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Pie is riding high. For far too long, it languished at the back of the culinary showcase, while cupcakes and other dessert crazes gained the limelight. Pie-making workshops and parties are the rage today, and entire bakeries are flourishing with a menu of nothing but pie. Some say pie is the new “it” dessert.

Pie has come a long way, baby. It originated in Egypt, and the first pie recipe was recorded in Greece. Pie’s renewed popularity, perhaps, is predictable in an era when so many women are intimidated by the prospect of making a pie crust. You know the expression, “Easy as pie!” Well, not so much.

I grew up in a home where Sunday dinner was incomplete without Mom’s homemade pie. I stood beside her at the kitchen counter and learned how to make it. I even received a 4-H state runner-up ribbon for an apple pie at the Woodbury County (Iowa) Fair.

Years later, when Mom began using a recipe with an egg and two teaspoons of vinegar, it seemed almost sacrilegious. She said it yielded a more consistent, reliable crust. I adapted to her new recipe, too.

Sadly, I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime during the past 20 years or so, I fell out of the pie-making routine. I still like to think about making pie.

So last summer, as my family set out from Iowa for a vacation in Missouri, I saw a road sign along a four-lane highway that said, “Eldon, Iowa: Home of the Grant Wood American Gothic House.” I convinced my family it would be a fun side trip, and then we’d drive straight to our destination.

What does this have to do with pie, you ask?

I knew Eldon, population 900, had built a small, beautiful Grant Wood museum next to the American Gothic House. My primary interest was The Pitchfork Pie Stand. I had read about Beth Howard, a woman who returned to her home state of Iowa, moved into the Gothic House, and began selling homemade pies in front of the house on weekends.

A sign on the door informed us we were just a few days late. After baking 100 pies each weekend for three years, Howard had moved to focus on her pie-making parties and pie cookbooks.

Her next cookbook, Ms. American Pie: Buttery Good Pie Recipes and Bold Tales from the American Gothic House, due this April, features 75 recipes from the Pitchfork Pie Stand, along with 10 essays and photos. Visit TheWorldNeedsMorePie.com.

I’ve never made butter crusts; we always used lard because we had plenty of it. Howard’s pie-making encourages breaking rules that only serve to intimidate us. However, she never uses a food processor to make a crust and insists on only using seasonal fruit.

Although I missed a sample from the Pitchfork Pie Stand, I have other pie destinations on my list.

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