The Gath­er­ing Place

When you need a lot of pas­try, en­list the help of your friends. BY BETH M. HOWARD PHO­TOS BY CASSIE BUR­TON PHOTOGRAPHY

Country Woman - - CONTENTS -

Many hands make light work of 20 pies.

Iap­proach pie mak­ing in the way Tom Sawyer paints fences: make it look like so much fun other peo­ple beg to do the work. Pie mak­ing is work, es­pe­cially when you need to make 20 of them, as I do for our farm’s an­nual La­bor Day pig roast. Get­ting other peo­ple to help is the per­fect so­lu­tion.

The morn­ing of the party I round up a dozen party guests and give them a free pie les­son. Voila! A tempt­ing smor­gas­bord of home­made pies ma­te­ri­al­izes for the evening’s fes­tiv­i­ties.

It started by ac­ci­dent, three years ago, at a fam­ily din­ner on the eve of the pig roast. A vis­it­ing rel­a­tive asked if I would teach her to make pie. I had con­sumed one too many glasses of wine and replied, “Sure, come over at 10, and bring whomever you want.”

When the group—which grew to num­ber 12 peo­ple overnight— sur­prised me the next morn­ing, I downed two cups of cof­fee and launched into Top Chef-mode. I al­ready had all the in­gre­di­ents, rolling pins, mix­ing bowls and pie dishes ready. I demon­strated each task—com­bin­ing the but­ter and flour, form­ing two disks, rolling the dough—stay­ing one step ahead and bark­ing Gor­don Ram­say-style rep­ri­mands to not over­work the pas­try. The group chat­ted and laughed to­gether as we peeled moun­tains of ap­ples and peaches, pil­ing the slices into pie shells. And then we cut dough into cute pig shapes to dec­o­rate the top crusts. They were for a pig roast, af­ter all.

That evening, the pie mak­ers were the stars of the party, as guests crowded around the pie ta­ble, oohing and aahing and de­vour­ing ev­ery last crumb.

Pie is a win-win like that—it makes the baker and the eater equally happy. Which is why every­one in­sisted on re­peat­ing the pie marathon the next year. And the year af­ter that.

My pie ap­pren­tices are all ad­vanced now, so I’ve set up a new sys­tem. In­stead of giv­ing

gen­eral in­struc­tions, I as­sign tasks, split­ting every­one into teams for mak­ing the dough, prep­ping fruit and crimp­ing crusts for each spe­cific fla­vor of pie. We’ve branched out from just ap­ple and peach, adding

Key lime, chess, to­mato-basil, blue­berry and straw­berry crum­ble. With so many peo­ple and pies, the kitchen is pure chaos, and every­one has to shout to be heard. But there is also a pal­pa­ble at­mos­phere of pur­pose and pride—and a lot of swoon­ing over the scents that are waft­ing from the oven. More pie means more shared hap­pi­ness.

Tom Sawyer might even want to help.

Save room for pie. Beth Howard (left) calls on her friends, like Carolyn Agner, when she needs to make 20 pies for an an­nual pig roast.

Pie is an art form crafted on an assem­bly line in Beth Howard’s kitchen. Teams of friends and fam­ily make the dough be­fore others fill and fin­ish at least 20 pies in one morn­ing. Above left, she and Hope Kre­bill work on fill­ing an ap­ple ver­sion, which later gets topped with a lat­tice crust and a whim­si­cal pig face.

A dozen peo­ple pack the farm kitchen on pie day, prov­ing that many hands make light work—and con­trolled chaos.

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