A Heavenly Hint: Bake Homemade Pies

A widow finds peace by returning to the state she grew up in to use her baking skills.

Posted in , Jul 2, 2012

A Heavenly Hint: Bake Homemade Pies

Some people say bread is the staff of life. Me? I’d say it’s pie.

I’m from Iowa and baking pies is in my DNA. I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for Mom’s banana cream pie. She made it for my dad one night when they were dating. One taste of that divine pie, and he asked her to marry him. In a way, pie gave me life.

Then, much later, when my husband died suddenly at 43 and I thought I couldn’t go on, it was pie that gave me a whole new life, one that I never could have imagined.

It was the summer of 2010. The first anniversary of Marcus’s death was coming up in mid-August, and I just couldn’t bear to stay on the West Coast, where we’d made our home.

But where should I go? My mind drifted back to a simpler, happier time. The middle of August...the Iowa State Fair... It’s known for its pie contests. I looked up the number of the food superintendent on the fair’s website. He invited me to be a judge.

Before I knew it, I was on the road to Iowa. I spent 11 days tasting pies in 11 different categories. That’s a lot of pie, but as I like to say, the world needs more pie.

When the fair ended, I drove out to Ottumwa, where I was born and raised. My parents had moved out west too, and I hadn’t been back to Iowa in years.

I found the house I grew up in, my grade school, Dad’s old office building. I stopped by Canteen Lunch in the Alley for a loose-meat burger.

I was driving east on Highway 34 taking in the wide-open landscape— nothing but tall corn and blue skies—when one of those brown historic attractions signs caught my eye: “American Gothic House, 6 miles.”

The house from Grant Wood’s famous painting? The one with the farmer in overalls holding a pitchfork, a woman in an apron by his side. I didn’t know it was this close to where I grew up!

I had to see it. I followed a winding country road to the tiny town of Eldon. It almost felt as if the road were pulling me somewhere. I turned into the visitors’ center parking lot.

There it was, set back from the road on a big lawn: the simple white frame house with its distinctive church-like Gothic window beneath the peaked roof.

The front porch looked cozy. I could imagine sitting there digging into a slice of pie, still warm from the oven. I could imagine myself at peace there.

The visitors’ center administrator told me the State Historical Society of Iowa rents it out, but no one had lived there for two years. “I don’t think they’ve found the right person,” she said.

That’s when I heard a voice inside me say, This house has been waiting for you. This is where you’re meant to be. I told the Historical Society folks my story. Two weeks later I moved in.

I run a pie stand on summer weekends, selling pies that I make from scratch in my kitchen—peach, apple, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb and whatever else is in season. The vent holes in the crust are in the shape of a pitchfork, which is how the Pitchfork Pie Stand got its name.

With each push of the rolling pin my soul is soothed and my heart is mended a little more. See? I really do owe my life to pie!

Try Beth's recipes for Apple Pie and Banana Cream Pie.

Making Piece book coverBeth Howard is the author of Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie (Harlequin Nonfiction). Learn more about her book and keep up with the rest of her pie-related activities on her website, theworldneedsmorepie.com.


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