Slice of Life

When you reach a fork, do us a favor: Choose pie.

Charlie Papazian likes to say that he is just a regular pie guy, but his vision for the future is well worth heeding. Twenty years ago he had an intuition about beer. At the time, he recalls, Bud and Coors were the reigning brews. So Papazian, who thought beer should taste better than that--that in fact, you could make better-tasting beer at home--founded the Association of Brewers. In doing so, he pulled together the loose ends of what became a microbrewery revolution.

"They said beer was working-class--they now say pie is working-class," he says. "Now look at beer--it's the darling! The same thing will happen to pie. It will. I guarantee it."

Microbakeries will spring up on street corners everywhere. Not just pie, but really good pie, will be available to all Americans. But this will take hard work. Which is where the American Pie Council comes in. "A not-for-profit association devoted to pie-making, pie-eating, pie-selling and the preservation of our fading pie heritage," the APC started as Papazian's hobby (National Pie Day is January 23, his birthday) a decade ago. But it was taken over six months ago by Boulder food critic John Lehndorff, who intends to take pie to the top.

"Lehndorff is my soul mate," Papazian says. "He was at one time the only person who was as interested in pie as I am, and now I have inspired him to go over the edge."

Lehndorff, whose earliest memory involves the fine, knife-wielding art of "evening off" a pie, is not just a connoisseur but a philosopher of pie. As such, he says, "it always amazed me that there was no official organization for lovers of pie."

As the new executive director of the APC, Lehndorff is actively casting about for "personal" and "commercial" members. That he has only 23 at the moment--most of them friends and family--troubles him little. "It's a labor of love," he says. "I just want to see how big pie really is."

He intends to do so as head judge at this year's National Pie Championship, to be held in January at the Hotel Boulderado, and every day, wherever he goes. Usually, he goes somewhere to eat pie. "When? Well, it's more a question of whether there's a bad time to eat pie," he muses. "As for the pie people, I'm finding that they're out there."

This could be true. Once broached, the subject of pie produces a passion that is seldom equaled by other foods. If your mother made pie, you long for it nostalgically. If your mother didn't make pie, you long for it psychiatrically. Sure, there is the occasional rogue eater who has no pie ties or brings up the heretical subject of non-fat crust. But for most of us, the issue of pie is one of sorting out cravings--from deep dish to shallow, from one crust to two.

"I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that's practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course."

--Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

"She lowers a piece of pie onto a large blue print plate with mincemeat and crust sprawled to the very edges. The steam rolls up."

--Carolyn Chute, in The Beans of Egypt, Maine

"It was his idea to stop at the truckstop, he thought coffee would calm him down, and they sat and drank a couple cups apiece, and then the pie looked good so they had some, banana cream and lemon meringue, and more coffee."

--Garrison Keillor, in "Truckstop"

Banana cream and lemon meringue? That, says baker Amy Hoyt, means it must have been winter. Self-described "opinionated pie bitch" at the Bobby Dazzler bakery in Park Hill, Hoyt believes pies occupy certain seasons from which they should never stray.

"Pie is my life," she explains. "We only bake fruit pies when the fruit is fresh and in season. Once the strawberries are gone, though you can technically buy strawberries, I will not bake them into a pie. Right now we have apple pie, apple-cranberry pie and pear pies with a little candied ginger in them. This would not be a good time to make a deep dish peach pie with heavy cream in it."

Hoyt runs the kind of "microbakery" the American Pie Council considers the wave of the future. A prospective APC member, she is not surprised to hear of a possible surge in pie popularity. "We made 400 this Thanksgiving," she says. That's about six times what she baked for the holiday six years ago, she realizes. "An interest in pie is coming from somewhere," she decides. "It's growing."

"At our county fair this year we had lots of pie entries, come to think of it," says Douglas County cooperative extension agent Beryl Jacobson, who's judged pie at the county fair for the past eighteen years. She adds modestly, "And I also help people with pies." In fact, Jacobson teaches the county pie class every year and keeps an extensive file of pastriana, including "Your Betty Crocker Scorecard for Pastry," an invaluable troubleshooting source for such troubles as "shrunken crust." (Cause? "Crust stretched when eased into pan.")

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