What Did You Decide About the Pie Stand?

A few weeks ago, I posted a couple of polls on my Facebook business page, The World Needs More Pie, about reprising my Pitchfork Pie Stand. Bring it back for the summer at the American Gothic House, or rent a retail space within walking distance of the house on Eldon, Iowa’s main street? I stirred up expectations along with an outpouring of support, and now some of you are asking what I decided to do.

I wanted to give you an update about my decision, my activities, and my plans.

I’ve decided not to rent the retail space. 95% of the responses were an enthusiastic “GO FOR IT!” including the one from my mom. But there was one friend, who knows me maybe even better than my mom, who said, “ARE YOU CRAZY? You don’t want to be tied down.” Her words snapped me out of my fantasy, though it was an exciting one while it lasted. I miss people. I miss the community that pie creates. So a newly renovated space where I could sell pies, teach pie classes, sell pie-baking supplies, and provide a space where people could gather seemed like a good solution.
It sounded so good on paper…

But the reality check was this: I’m a terrible businessperson; I suck at bookkeeping. I want (and need) to travel; a year-round retail space would require me to stay put. The rent was very high for a rural town; I’m not prepared to take out loans or drain my savings. While my shop would bring people to town, the tourist season is short; it would be hard to sustain business (and pay rent) in the winter. And then there’s winter itself. I suffer from S.A.D. and the ONLY solution that works for me (and I’ve tried them all) is go south like a snowbird.

Which brings me back to my original idea: reprising the Pitchfork Pie Stand inside the American Gothic House for the summer months.
Sadly, the pie stand will not be returning to the American Gothic House. The AGH is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa and the state employee who manages it, along with six other historical sites, has a blanket policy for all: No Baking Inside. No matter that I baked THOUSANDS of pies in the house during the four years I lived there. No matter that bringing the pie stand back for the summer would draw more tourists, create community, and contribute to the local economy. Policy is policy.
Not one to take no for an answer, I considered going above his pay grade and asking for permission from his boss, his boss’s boss, hell, I’d have gone all the way to the governor. Or I might have organized a public campaign with my supporters to lobby for the pie stand. But I have too many other things to do with my time than battle bureaucracy. (For the record, I did consider baking elsewhere and transporting the pies to the AGH, but there’s a long list of reasons why that’s not a viable solution.)
I’m sorry that Eldon’s visitors will miss out on pie. I’m sorry that I won’t get to bake with you. But I’m especially sorry that the AGH is not getting utilized. (The historical society won’t even allow you to plug in a Crockpot!) The AGH has a soul—I felt it the first time I saw I stepped inside—and I know it’s happier when it’s filled with life. And I don’t mean snakes! The pie stand would have been a win-win for everyone. It’s a shame the rule-makers in Des Moines don’t see it that way.
So what’s next then?


I’ve been working on edits for the second edition of my cookbook, “MS. AMERICAN PIE.” My original publisher took it out of print—such are the disappointments an author faces. I was planning on self-publishing it just so I could get it back out there in the world, but at the last minute, I signed on with Interlink Books. They will release the book next March (2022), and possibly with a new cover. Ten months seems like a long time, but given the high quality of Interlink’s printing, along with its sales, marketing, and distribution abilities, it will be worth the wait. It’s—hashtag—somethingtolookforwardto.

I’m also working on my next book, “WORLD PIECE: One Woman, One Rolling Pin, Nine Countries, and the Desire to Make a Difference.” I completed my three-month round-the-world pie-making journey in 2015 (watch the 23-min film here), and did not expect writing the memoir would take far more time and effort than the trip itself. But that’s partly because I’ve only been working on it intermittently since my return. I dedicate myself to it in spurts, but I keep getting sidetracked. I’m finally ready—I swear—to get it to the finish line by the end of the summer. Which is another reason for not doing the pie stand.

One of the projects that sidetracked me from “World Piece” was television—not watching it; writing for it. After a friend encouraged me to enter, I won a contest for a TV Pitch Workshop with Marta Kauffman. You may not recognize her name but you know her TV shows, “Friends” and “Grace and Frankie.” I was always terrified of the script format, but after downloading the software and giving it a try, I discovered that I actually LIKE writing scripts! I wrote my first TV pilot, have a good start on the second episode, and have outlined five seasons of the story arc. I even made a video pitch:
What’s my scripted TV show about? What is anything in my life about? PIE, of course! I had tried—and failed—to sell my memoir about the four years I lived in the American Gothic House, but winning the TV Pitch contest prompted me to repurpose it as a TV series. It works MUCH better as a dramedy than a memoir, because by fictionalizing it I can tell the real story about what happened and no one will know the difference! Marta likes my idea, but said she’s got too much on her plate to take it on. But now that the “Friends Reunion” is finally done, maybe she’ll reconsider.
That’s the long answer to “What did you decide about the pie stand or pie shop?” Yes, it’s disappointing—for me, too—but I’ve got plenty of other pie-related projects to keep me busy. And I have not discounted the possibility of doing a pop-up pie stand, maybe this summer, maybe at the American Gothic House Center (the museum and gift shop next door to the AGH), maybe somewhere else. Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. Life as a writer can get lonely; it helps to know you’re out there, just a Facebook comment or text message away.
One last thing before you go…

If you’ve read my books would you mind writing a review on Amazon? It would help so much. It’s a sad new reality in publishing that agents and publishers look at the reviews on that giant (some would say evil) website when considering representing authors. This goes for all authors, not just me. Those book reviews matter.

Some previous blog posts you might like: 

Summer Fun: Pop-Up Pie Stand and Pie Classes

Big news! I’m doing a Pitchfork Pie Stand Pop-Up on August 27.

It’s at Sip Coffee and Wine Bar, located at 120 South Main Street, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on Saturday, August 27, from 12 to 4PM.

Sip is right on the town square of this quaint and tidy little town at the intersection of Highway 34 and Highway 218 (Avenue of the Saints), about 40 minutes east of the American Gothic House where I ran my original Pitchfork Pie Stand.

We’ll have large pies, mini pies, and pie by the slice. And because we’re at a coffee house we will have coffee!  The best espresso for miles around. Please come!

We recommend reserving a pie in advance, so please go to my CONTACT PAGE to reach me.

And in more big news, I am offering pie classes again!


We have finally finished renovating the kitchen (and bathroom) at Camp Doug — AKA Camp Dough — and we are ready to break in that big, beautiful new oven.  Classes on the schedule so far are Saturday, August 20 and Saturday, September 17.

For more details and to register, please go to my PIE CLASS page on my website.

PS: You can read about our Camp Doug renovation in my article on Country Living magazine’s website. “10 Things I Learned From Renovating a Farmhouse (Without Destroying my Relationship.”

Another happy bunch of pie bakers!

I’m looking forward to getting back to work — and
to getting my arms back in shape!

First Pie Class of the World Piece Journey: New Zealand

My first pie class of the World Piece tour was in Napier, New Zealand. Brett Zimmerman (aka Mr. Z), a friend of Louise Watts (my host Grace’s daughter), is a cooking teacher at a local college. (College in NZ is high school in US terms.)

Mr. Z offered use of his classroom — 6 large stainless steel tables and seven — seven!! — ovens. YES! PERFECT! THANK YOU!

The first thing we did was go shopping for pie tins. There is a restaurant supply warehouse just 2 blocks from the school. And luckily they had pie tins. The only kind they had were “very deep dish” but I didn’t mind. We had plenty of apples to fill them. My pie mentor Mary Spellman taught me to make pie in generous portions: “Don’t be stingy,” she always said if I put too little filling in a pie dish. Besides, America has a reputation of doing thing BIG. So big pies were what we would make.

Meet Mr. Z. He is not just a cooking teacher, he’s also a rugby coach.
This is what the classroom looked like before we made a mess.
Pastry gems are some mysterious cross between butter & shortening.
Seemed ideal, and the price was right (FREE!), but the texture was hard.
As for the taste, it was okay, but I wouldn’t recommend the stuff.
Gorgeous apples from The Yummy Fruit Company.
From left to right: Ballaret, Granny Smith, Lemonade.
Lemonade is a new variety, a cross between Gala & Braeburn.
Ballaret are tarter than Gr Smith & easier to peel. Perfect for pie!

Before the class, Mr. Z used some of the apples to give me a lesson in knife-handling skills. We carved swans. He had worked in some fancy pants restaurant and they made these as a garnish, not to eat. He said he worked 14-hour days at that job. No wonder his days were so long! It takes a lot of time to create these carvings. It was fun to learn, but I prefer using apples for pie.

Swan in progress.

Not bad for my first (and last) attempt.
Luckily I did not slice my fingers
 off in the knife-handling exercise.
Especially since this was only
 the beginning of my trip.
Pie is always better with butter. I came to the right country as
New Zealand makes really good butter. 
We had about 18 students for the class. (I didn’t actually count them, Grace did, but I think the number was more like 16 because she included me and Mr. Z in the headcount.) Participants ranged in age from 17 to 70. Mr. Z had sent out email invitations to the school administrators, his cooking students, his catering business helpers, and a few local Hawke’s Bay friends. 
Neil, one of the first participants to arrive.
Check out those pants! A patchwork extravaganza,
he told me they’re 20 years old. 

This cutie pie is Sam. She showed up in braids and someone asked her if she was the Pie Lady.
I wanted my pic taken with her since, based on our matching hairstyles,
we were obviously kindred spirits.

And there is it, the teacher’s corner. More like “Show & Tell.”

No matter where in the world I teach a pie class, it is pretty much always the same format. Introduction, overview of what we’re going to do, demo, turn everyone loose, and then watch the flour fly.

The Pitchfork Pie Stand lives on in every pie I make!

“Rolling dough is like horseback riding, you have to take control of the reins.”
Yep, that analogy works in pretty much every country.

These are some of Mr. Z’s students. They love baking.

Mr. Crazy Patchwork Pants and Miss Cutie Pie Braids. They were a great team!

This table of ladies includes a florist, a school nurse, and a librarian.
They made the most beautifully decorated pies.

My host, Grace Bower, was clearly having a great time. She is not only an
excellent knitter of prayer shawls, she also is an excellent pie maker.

This is Mona. She’s a food judge. But this night she was on the other side of the table.

A crimping lesson.

Neil had to leave early so he took his unbaked pie home with him. On his bike. He had to ride one-handed. In the dark. I never did hear if the pie made it or not. I’m pretty sure no news is good news. I had to hand it to him for his adventurous can-do Kiwi spirit.

The culinary students went to extra lengths to make their pies pretty.
Not for extra credit, but because they enjoyed the artistic process.

Making progress. 

The first pie to come out of the oven belonged to Mona the food judge.
Her pie could have won any pie contest.

I wore my running shoes for the class. I know from having used classroom kitchens before that when you have multiple ovens dispersed through the large room it is a real workout to move between the tables and around the people (dodging rolling pins and trying not to slip on the pie dough that’s fallen on the floor) to get to the ovens. You don’t want your students to do all that work preparing the pies only to have them burn!

I couldn’t read the dials on Mr. Z’s ovens as the numbers were worn off. They were in celsius so I couldn’t understand them anyway. But thanks to my sprinting and squats and the effort of rotating pies around on the oven shelves, every single pie came out looking….well, YUMMY.

See? No pies were harmed (or burned) in the making of this film.

After all these years and all these oven burns, pie still makes me happy. 

Louise Watts presents the “Apple Award” to Mr. Z. The hand-blown glass artwork
came from Utah and Grace determined that people who have contributed something good
should be bestowed with the award–or at least have their picture taken with the apple.

Every pie class ends with a “Victory Shot.” This one was no exception. Look at all those happy people. And look at all those gorgeous pies! Pie really does make the world a better place.

And to think is only the first class of the three-month, 10-country, round-the-world journey. Here’s to many more pies and many more happy people.

Thank you, New Zealand — Grace Bower, Louise Watts, Brett “Mr. Z” Zimmerman & the William Colonso College, Paul Paynter & the Yummy Fruit Company, the Ibis & Novotel Hotels in Rotorua, and many others — for making the first leg of World Piece a fun, safe and successful one.

Next stop: Australia (June 14 to 24)


American Gothic House: It Was a Magical Four Years

(Scroll down for pictures of the interior of the house.)

After four magical years, I have moved out of the American Gothic House. When asked why, the easiest answer to give is that one can only live in a tourist attraction for so long. My friends and Facebook fans (follow me here) have responded that they can’t believe I lasted as long as I did. Me either! When I rented the house I had asked for a three-month lease. The landlord said, no, one year or nothing. When I found out the rent was just $250 a month, the same amount I was paying for my storage unit in Portland, Oregon, I figured if I didn’t like living there I could just use it as a place to store my stuff. But I did like it.

At first I saw the house as a quiet place to write — and to continue my grieving process (over the loss of my husband, Marcus) in solitude. But I can only do quiet in small doses. No sooner did I move in I started making pies, and then opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand, which much to my surprise became wildly successful, and soon tourists were lining up in my living room to buy my butter-filled baked goods.

I did accomplish my original idea of using the house as a place to write. In fact, I wrote two books — MAKING PIECE, my memoir about how pie helped heal my grief, and MS. AMERICAN PIE, a pie cookbook with essays about the myriad ways pie can make the world a better place. Both reached bestseller status on various lists.

People ask me if the American Gothic House is haunted. I always say if there are ghosts, they are friendly ones, muses who encourage creativity.

Living in a tourist attraction, you would think dealing with all those tourists would be annoying. The tourists were never annoying. They arrived excited, curious, often giddy. I could hear them laugh as they tried to strike the Grant Wood masterpiece painting pose, depicting the dour father-daughter duo holding the pitchfork. The tourists provided entertainment for me when I needed, and a connection to the outside world when I was craving one.

It was snakes, and not overly curious visitors pressing their face up to the glass for a peek inside, that rattled me most. There was the six-foot bull snake in my bathroom (whose fate I know) and the other six-foot snake in my laundry room (who slithered up into the heating ducts and whose whereabouts remain a mystery), and a sundry of other, smaller ones. There were mice on occasion (you can read THIS story about my crisis dealing with them.) There were infestations of Japanese beetles, disguised as innocent lady bugs until you felt them bite. Later came the swarms of box elder bugs. Thunderstorms were always scary, especially when sleeping so close to the roof, and the tornado warnings were terrifying, but luckily the house has a finished concrete basement for shelter. It seems nature was always trying to move in!

Country living was challenging enough. But living in the limelight became especially wearing. I could feel myself getting tired, keeping my curtains closed more often, and getting irritated more easily than usual by things like the noise of lawn mowers, the peering eyes of my nosy neighbors, and the visits from the sheriff announcing yet another complaint about my two little terriers being “at large.” A friend told me a while ago, “Sometimes new stories require new houses.” I pondered that idea — and fought it — for the past year until I finally realized I am ready — moreover, I need — a new story.

My four years in the American Gothic House could read like a novel. But who needs to write fiction when real life is infinity more interesting?! Instead, I’m spending this fall writing another memoir about my zany misadventures there. I’m staying in Iowa for now, on a friend’s 1,200-acre farm — that’s 1,200 acres of pure privacy!

In the meantime, here is a look inside the house (pictures in no particular order). It’s empty now. But a place as special as this will find someone new to look after it, and in turn there will be more stories to tell.

This was probably the dining room of the house back in the day. But fast-forward to the
21st century, it’s wired for telephone, Internet and cable TV.  I used this room as my office,for pie classes, and as the pie stand grew I used it for pie production as well. 

These are the windows on the front side of the house, as seen from inside. It is outside
these windows where tourists pose day after day. Tourists of all ages, races, nationalities, etc. What fun to watch all the activity, the happiness, the smiling faces, the costumes, people posing with their cars, motorcycles, horses, sheep, goats, llamas, rock bands, you name it! It was never boring!

The living room sits empty now, but this was the site of the Pitchfork Pie Stand.
I made sure the pie crumbs were cleaned out from between the floorboards before I left.

This is the front door. I would let my dogs out every morning and  they would chase
the squirrels out of the yard. Over the past four years, a lot of good friends, family, pie customers and pie students came through that door. But think of all the people who have entered through this door since the house was built in 1882!

The view from the “other side” of the world famous Gothic window. Tourists never knew when I was behind it, hiding out, reading books in my bed. What a nice place to hide, it was!

The ceilings upstairs are so low I had to have my king-size mattress on the floor!
Friends called it “glorified camping.” I called it “just right.

Forget having a walk-in closet. Just be glad you have ONE closet at all! This is one of the
reasons I pared down my wardrobe to just overalls and jeans. I did keep my Armani suit and a few gowns though. Just in case.

The Gothic window on the back side of the house swings down and sideways.
It’s how the furniture is moved in and out of the upstairs
because the staircase is too narrow.

The upstairs is so sweet. Though as you can see, not for tall people.

Heading upstairs to bed, you’re greeted by a second Gothic window.  But watch your head! The stairway is steep and the ceilings are low.

Thank you to GE Appliances for donating the fancy fridge and stove. I put both to
very good (and hard) use! That oven baked all my pies for the pie stand.
I hope it will see more pies in its future.

It’s a small but mighty kitchen. I painted the cupboards red, which I LOVED.
And check out that gorgeous sink and faucet, donated by Kohler. What a
fantastic improvement this was to the house. Thank you again, Kohler!

Keep that kitchen curtain pulled or you will have curious tourists peering inside!

The world’s smallest bathtub. But by god, I used it! Better than nothing.
It required doing yoga poses to get your torso wet.

The view from the loo. Keep the curtain open at your own risk.
You never know when a tourist might walk by!

This doorway saw a LOT of traffic during my stay.
We shuttled hundreds of pies from the kitchen to the living room for the pie stand.
The wall on the right is where I had my kitchen table, where I made pies, drank
wine with friends (and martinis with my dad), and wrote BOTH of my books.

The American Gothic House from the back side. It’s just as cute.
And most people don’t know it has a matching Gothic window on the back.
I would leave the lights on when walking my dogs at night.
That way, I could look back and admire the beauty of my little cottage.

I heard so many people say, “These stairs remind me of my grandma’s house.”
Beware, they’re charming but dangerous to navigate when you’re sleepy.
And NEVER wear socks or you will slip!

A bittersweet sign. The pie stand was SO MUCH WORK, but I met
so many amazing and nice people because of it. I kept the sign as a souvenir.

Well, what it says is true! The neighbors — AKA: The Binoculars — keep a very close eye on the activities at the AG House. They are the quintessential Kravitz characters from the old TV show “Bewitched.” I didn’t actually leave the sign behind, but the picture of it alone makes the point.

This was a “gift” from my friend/coworker LeAnn. I never did use it but I made
sure to leave it for the house’s next occupant. It’s the least I could do! For more about my
snake adventures, read my blog post, “Wayward Reptiles in the American Gothic House.” It’s a good one. 

More AGH Video…And My Kohler Sink is the Star

My friend Jo Brown works for Kohler and when she found out I lived in the American Gothic House she suggested I might want an old-fashioned cast iron farm sink, a brand new top-of-the-line one made by Kohler. “Good for all your pie baking,” she said.

“Yes, but only if you come down to see me when they install it,” I insisted. I hadn’t seen Jo in eight years. We had worked together at MSN.com as web producers. She and her husband John came to my wedding — to the ceremony Marcus and I had on a farm outside of Seattle. (It was one of three ceremonies we had, ensuring we were thoroughly married.) Time marched on and with it came life changes. Jo and her husband had moved to Wisconsin and I moved, alone and grieving Marcus, to Iowa.

Jo did come down to Eldon, in late August after the gorgeous new sink was installed, and instead of my kitchen being a construction zone we were in full-blown pie-making mode for the Pitchfork Pie Stand. She pitched right in, rolling dough and peeling apples — while her video crew shot footage of us using the new Kohler apron-front sink. It was a win-win: I got to spend time with Jo — I was reminded of how much I loved her lightness of being, her easy laugh and her wisdom — and she earned points with her bosses for scoring this great PR opp.

While I love, love, love, love, love my new Kohler sink, what I love even more is that this sink brought an old friend back into my life. We won’t let eight more years go by without seeing each other again, of that I am certain.

Thanks again, Jo — and thanks, Kohler.

Click here to see Jo’s version of the story in her blog post on the Kohler website.

Seeing Orange: As in Pumpkin Pie

Since I know you’ve all been wondering (yeah, right) about how the Pumpkin Pie Palooza turned out, I am finally posting the pictures from the event. Yes, I realize it’s been twelve days since my pie stand was open for that final day of the season. And yes, I realize I have posted nothing since then. I also realize time has marched on so far that the sunny Indian Summer days have given way to snow. Alas, since this blog is about pie and documenting my adventures based around “America’s quintessential comfort food” and the Pumpkin Pie Palooza is about as pie-centric of a story as you can get, I figure better late than never.

So there we were, Saturday, October 29, on an unseasonably warm and sunny day…  It was so warm, in fact, we did something Iowa weather doesn’t normally permit: we moved the pie stand outside into the side yard.

I baked all the pies myself this time — all 50 of them. My trusty pie assistant, Dakota McElderry, had returned to high school and given that he wasn’t available for the weekday prep, I found myself alone in the kitchen for the first time in many months. I had forgotten how much I like — even prefer — working solo. With my iPhone earbuds securely in place, my apron tied around my waist, and my rolling pin at the ready, I found my rhythm, the trance-like one that had soothed my broken heart during that first year after Marcus died. I had forgotten how moving quietly, methodically, peacefully around my workspace, dusting my table with flour, rolling out dough, whisking eggs by the bowlful — and not barking orders at Dakota or whoever else was helping with the pie stand — allowed me the space and the time for my thoughts to wander, my ideas to flow, my nerves to calm. It was luxurious. And it reminded me of how much I still love making pie. A lot of pie.

And then, after two and a half days of baking, the pies all made and set out for display, it was show time.

Shirley Stacey, Eldon’s ace mayor (who was THANKFULLY  just re-elected
 for another term!) was one of my first customers of the day.

Seeing it was a Halloween-based event, I took the time to create a makeshift costume. What better fitting attire for the Pitchfork Pie Stand than a…why yes, a costume that revolves around a pitchfork. I got the devil horns and matching tail for a dollar each at the Dollar Store. Can’t beat that!

The ever-helpful Dakota McElderry

Seeing it was a Saturday — a school-free day — Dakota was able to work at the pie stand. He borrowed my bottle of fake blood to fashion a little beard for himself — as his costume. He also crafted a “scary” prop out of a pie box and stuck it on the end of a pitchfork. Which I thought was very clever.

We did not, however, send home customer pies in blood-covered boxes.

My costume had some competition from a toddler. I couldn’t help but think of one of those celebrity magazines with the red carpet photos of actresses caught wearing the same dress (oh, the horror!), you know that photo-driven column, “Who Wore it Better.” In this case, I’m sure the little guy would have won. Especially with the devilish mustache, beard and eyebrows drawn on his face. Why didn’t I think of that?!

Costumes and decorations aside, it was still the pies — pumpkin, apple and apple crumble — that were the showcase of the day.

I had a surprise visit from a woman who goes to the same college I attended — The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. A long way from (her) home, Sarah and her mom (who hails from Iowa) stopped by for a slice of pie and brought me a gift — a vintage pie tin along with a needle-pointed logo of my alma mater, handcrafted by Sarah herself.

Last but not least, my BFF in Eldon, Patti, showed up late in the afternoon — also in costume. She was dressed up as….me! She had the outfit wired, down to the pigtails and overalls (which she had had to borrow for the occasion). I laughed so hard I nearly cried. Should I have been flattered? I mean, she finished off the outfit with a witch’s hat after all. Was she trying to tell me something?

Some of you asked if we had any leftover pie. Yes. A few pumpkin pies were left. And that made me very happy. Why? Because pumpkin pie freezes well, which means that for the past twelve days I’ve been able to have a rare stash on hand and indulge in my favorite food.

Really, I had such a good time with the Pumpkin Pie Palooza I’m wondering if I really can wait until Memorial Day to open up the pie stand again.

Pecan Pie Palooza anyone?

Pumpkin Pie Palooza Kicks Off With…Pumpkins

This was all H’s idea. As for me, after a verrrry long summer of pie slavery, I mean pie baking, I was quite relieved that the Pitchfork Pie Stand was closed for the season. But no. Halloween is H’s favorite holiday. And apparently pumpkin pie is one of his favorite pies, because no sooner did I hang the “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign on my door, H suggested, “Hey, let’s have a Pumpkin Pie Palooza.” Yeah, sure, okay, I replied in my love-struck state.

And so it begins, the preparation for one last pie-making hurrah of 2011. It’s the same routine of the summer — shopping for mass amounts of ingredients, rolling industrial-quantities of dough, boiling over pie filling in the oven clouding my kitchen with smoke — except that it will be condensed into the next three days.

H has been very sweet and supportive about the whole thing though. We kicked off pumpkin pie season a few weeks ago when we went on a local “farm crawl.” The first farm we stopped at was Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch
…where we stocked up on pumpkins that have been adorning the backyard of the American Gothic House ever since. One of the pumpkins even found its way onto the clothesline post — as the head of the scarecrow. Which was also H’s idea. (Seems that spending time in rural Iowa is bringing out his creative side.)

I had my own creative ideas for decorating the backyard (below). After all, October is not only about Halloween, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I digress…

H also bought me a pumpkin pie sign. It’s adorable. And thoughtful. And reminds what a great guy H is. Not that I need reminding.

But really, H outdid himself today. While I was home getting caught up on work, he went to the grocery store —Aldi, of course — and bought all the remaining ingredients I needed to get started. He sent me this photo from the parking lot:

And now…it’s my turn to step in. Tonight I’ll be making dough. Tomorrow I’ll be rolling it. Friday I’ll mix gallons of pumpkin custard and peel 60 pounds of apples, since we’ll also offer apple pie. And on Saturday, I’ll get up early to bake. And bake. And bake.

And finally, this Saturday from 12 to 4, we’ll have pie for sale at the Pitchfork Pie Stand. We won’t be open again until Memorial Day — I swear — so please come by for this Saturday’s one-day event. The weather report is for 60 degrees and sun so we’ll set up the pie stand outside in the yard. And even though I occasionally grumble about what hard work it is to run a pie stand, I’m really looking forward to a crispy fall day with the cinnamon scent of pie permeating the air. And not to just selling pie, but to eating some too!

Meanwhile, since so many of you come to my blog looking for recipes, let me fill you in on my “secret recipe” pumpkin pie. It’s straight off the Libby’s canned pumpkin label. Uh, yeah. There you have it. Hardly a secret. It’s tried and true, it doesn’t call for nutmeg (which I abhor for its overpowering taste), and — always a prerequisite for me — it’s easy.

Happy Halloween, everyone. And Happy Pumpkin Pie season.

PUMPKIN PIE RECIPE (From the Libby’s label)

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) canned pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated Milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)

MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
POUR into pie shell.

BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

The Reality of Running a Pie Stand

One of my guest pie bakers, Marcia Mermelstein
(left), was an whiz at rolling dough. I just
wish she  could have stayed all summer!

Today was my last day of pie baking for the summer. By “pie baking” I mean mass production of pies for the Pitchfork Pie Stand. Running a humble little weekend pie stand in rural SE Iowa may seem like a peaceful, idyllic way to spend the hot season, but — I hate to break it to you — there is nothing relaxing or vacation-like about making 60 pies a weekend all summer long.

I’ve had numerous people ask me for advice on how to start a pie stand or pie shop or pie enterprise of some kind. “You’ve simplified your life and are making a living doing what you love,” they all surmise. “How can I quit my job and start a pie stand?”

I promised to answer this in a blog post months ago. With all those (#&*%!) pies to make, however, I haven’t had time to write. But I have been thinking about how to answer, what advice to give.

Yes, I’ve simplified my life. I’ve pared down my life to the basics, I rent a $250-a-month house miles from “civilization” (which I interpret as anyplace deemed big enough to have a Starbucks), and I don’t have the typical workaday stress of commuting in traffic and navigating office politics. And while I love making pie, running a pie business is still, well, running a business. It comes with all the risks, expenses, hard work and headaches that any entrepreneurial endeavor entails.

Want to open a pie stand? All I can do is, based on my experience, give you a little heads up on what to expect.

My pie-making assistant, Dakota McElderry,
was a godsend this summer.

You will be….

  1. on your hands and knees scrubbing your kitchen floor more often than you ever dreamed
  2. tired and cranky
  3. pulled in way too many directions all at once, simultaneously trying to fold bakery boxes, get pies out of the oven, wait on customers, peel apples, get more dough made, answer the phone, keep tourists from sneaking past your “Private Residence” sign, and more, only to find yourself…that’s right, see point above
  4. driving to the store for pie ingredients
  5. driving to the store for pie ingredients
  6. driving to the store for pie ingredients
  7. running out of ingredients and having to drive back to the store again (oh, and the nearest store is 20 miles away)
  8. Aldi got a lot of business from me this summer.
    I regularly bought out the entire fruit section.
  9. frustrated that you can’t make enough pies to satisfy the demands of the customers
  10. frustrated that there aren’t enough customers to buy all those extra pies you made
  11. fantasizing about how you can renovate your kitchen to get more (much-needed) counter space
  12. swearing as jars, bottles, pints of berries and blocks of butter fall out of your refrigerator as you fight to make space for pie dough made in bulk
  13. needing days off in between marathon baking sessions to let your hands and arms heal from the paring knife gashes and the oven burns
  14. surprised at how fast the week goes and how, even though you scaled your pie stand hours back to just Saturday and Sunday, you really only get one day off a week, and that one day is used to catch up on emails and update your pie stand website
  15. putting every cent you make on pies back into the business (for groceries and for gas for all those trips to the store, for bakery boxes, pie tins, paper plates, plastic forks, napkins, business cards, signage, etc.), while simultaneously dipping into your savings account for the rest of your living expenses (because, life, no matter where you live, is expensive)
  16. wishing you had a job in a cubicle where you could sit in front of a computer and drink coffee (you will never actually be able to finish a cup of coffee while running a pie stand as your hands are constantly busy doing something else)
The very last apple pies of the summer ready to
go in the oven. Do I look tired and cranky, or what!

If it appears I’m trying to discourage anyone from opening a pie stand, you are wrong. Very wrong. My advice — be it a pie stand, writing a novel, getting a dog, going sky diving or leaving a loveless marriage — is that if you dream of something then just bloody well do it. Don’t let it take a tragedy (like the sudden death of your 43-year-old husband) to shake you out of your stupor.

Because not only is life short, number 16 is this:

16. On closing day, you will already be thinking about next year and what improvements you’re going to make: hire extra help, ask your landlord for a bigger refrigerator, put a table on the back porch for extra counter space. And even though on this last sweltering day of summer when you’re feeling tired and burned out, you still need to scrub your kitchen floor, scrape the flour out of the cupboard handles, and do your umpteenth load of laundry (of aprons and hand towels and overalls), you will not only be thinking about next year’s pie stand, you will be looking forward to it.

**Thank you to all our patrons for making the Pitchfork Pie Stand at the American Gothic House a success. Success is not measured in money, mind you, but in the reward of meeting some wonderful, interesting, NICE people from all over the U.S. and from as far away as China, Singapore, Australia, Europe and beyond. You made all that scrubbing, shopping and sweating worth it!

Pitchfork Pie Stand — Opening May 20

Hello pie fans. You may have read the article in the May/June issue of Midwest Living touting my Pitchfork Pie Stand. Well, good news. The pie stand is finally opening for the season on Friday, May 20. So far summer hours will include Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays coinciding with the American Gothic House Center hours, but seeing on how traffic goes we may expand to daily. It’s not easy to feed the pie-hungry masses when you only have a tiny kitchen and one oven  inside the American Gothic House. But we will do our best. Looking forward to seeing you this summer.