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
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.