Friday, October 12, 2012

The World Needs More Pie

LUCY BURDETTE: Today I'm thrilled to introduce you all to Beth Howard, pie baker and author of the memoir, Making Piece, and the blog, THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE. I read the book and was fascinated with her story and contacted her to see if she'd visit JRW. I'm not going to give a long introduction because Beth tells it better than I could! Off we go--Beth, please tell us about how you came to the idea that the world needs more pie?

BETH HOWARD:  I coined this little phrase, “the world needs more pie,” back in 2001 when I quit a lucrative but stressful dot com job in San Francisco and to restore the balance in my life took a “pie-baking sabbatical” for a year. I moved to Malibu, California, where I worked as the resident pie baker at a gourmet take-out cafĂ©. I joked then about how pie could heal all things, like job burn-out and how pie helped me land a husband.

 But when my husband, Marcus, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 43, I was forced to put this little “joke” to the test. I didn’t start baking pies immediately after he died, but I did write a lot on my blog, “The World Needs More Pie,” which I started in 2007. So pie maintained a presence in my early and acute stages of grief. Oddly, though, it was because I faced my fear of driving the RV Marcus left behind that led to my new pie journey, ultimately leading me back to my Iowa roots and to the American Gothic House where I’ve lived for the past two years, and where I wrote my memoir, “Making Piece.” Five months after Marcus died I drove the RV—my first time ever driving it—from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles with the goal of just bringing back a load of my stuff that was in storage there. As soon as I arrived I ran into a TV producer friend there who knew about my blog. She had worked on MTV’s “Road Rules” and suggested we take the RV on a road trip and make a pie documentary. So we did, for two weeks. 

It was this effort of interviewing other pie bakers, teaching pie classes to different age groups, and exploring the role pie plays in making the world a better place that was the catalyst for my new direction, and in great part for jump starting my healing process. That project gave me purpose when I needed it most. The TV show never got finished—I’m still trying to sell it—but regardless, it helped me take the focus off my grief and put it on something positive, which is pie. Pie makes people happy and making others happy through pie helped in turn make me happier. Pie helped me get through the darkest time in my life.

LUCY: You've had some amazing experiences since publishing the memoir--and now you've landed in the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa where you're baking pie after pie after pie. Maybe
you could pick one or two of your favorite experiences and then tell us what's next for you?

BETH: I’m not sure if I can say any of those experiences is a “favorite.” It’s been hard work. I loved the process of writing my book. I wrote it the first winter I lived in the American Gothic House. I set up my laptop on my kitchen table (which is an ideal creative space as it’s also where I make all my pies), positioned the space heater under the table, dressed in Marcus’ fleece sweat pants and wrote for three months straight while it snowed outside on the fields. That was a precious period of time, of solitude, reflection and healing. 

But it’s been exhausting ever since! My book tour was six weeks. I traveled in April and May over 5,000 miles in the RV, which got a customized paint job for the occasion. The camper is now plastered with colorful decals of my book cover and the words “Beth M. Howard’s RV Book Tour.” You couldn’t miss me driving down the highway! I continue to do public speaking, book events, and press, which I enjoy doing here and there, but the book tour itself landed me in the ER with bronchitis and a ruptured tendon in my neck. 

I run the Pitchfork Pie Stand in the summers, making over 100 pies every weekend Memorial Day to Labor Day. Because of all the press I’ve received—including that CBS This Morning segment, a feature in Real Simple magazine and the front page of the LA Times—my pie stand business more than quadrupled in sales this past summer. I cannot keep up that pace, especially since I make all the pies out of my tiny kitchen using just one oven, so I’ll definitely be making changes next year, probably scaling it way back. Customers and tourists won’t be happy about that, but I cannot manage the growth. My goal is to write another book—and sell the pie TV show, and ideally get “Making Piece” made into a movie—so in order to accomplish my other goals I need to take the focus off of the pie stand. I continue to teach pie classes and that’s something I always enjoy. It’s so rewarding to hear students proclaim with a great sense of accomplishment, “I can’t believe I made this!” By teaching I can ensure that the world will get more pie.

LUCY: And now for the pie! Beth has graciously agreed to share her Shaker Lemon Pie recipe with us: a citrus-y taste of summer no matter what the season. I'm drooling...


2 large lemons (Meyer lemons if you can find them, but works with any kind)
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs (beaten)
3 tablespoons flour

Dough for one double-crust pie  (crust recipe below)

Wash and dry whole lemons. Using a mandoline (serrated knife works too), slice lemons paper thin into a large bowl. (Remove seeds.) Stir in sugar, cover, and set aside at room temperature overnight.

Mix lemon-sugar mixture with beaten eggs, salt and flour. Pour in pie shell. Cover with top crust. Create a decorative crimped edge by pinching dough all the way around. Brush with a beaten egg (for a gorgeous shiny golden brown finish) and then poke with a few ventilation holes (use a paring knife and, if you’re feeling creative, make a design with your holes).

Bake at 425°F for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375°F and bake for 25 to 30 minutes more.

Basic Pie Crust
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup Crisco
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill one cup but use only enough to moisten dough)

In a deep bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until marble-sized lumps form. Add ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour. When the dough feels moistened enough do a “squeeze test” and when it holds together you’re done. Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t! Now divide the dough in two, form each half into a disk shape and roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Trim excess dough to about 1 inch from the dish edge with a scissors. 

LUCY: Thank you Beth and good luck on all your projects! Readers, if you'd like to hear Beth in person, she'll be interviewed on Martha Stewart Living "Book Talk Radio" today at 12:30 CST.


  1. You have an amazing story, Beth. And this reminds me that I haven't made a pie this fall yet, with an apple orchard down the street, no less. No time like today!

  2. Good morning, Beth – What an incredible story . . . thank you for sharing it with us.

    Meyer lemons . . . gee, that brings me a truckload of memories . . . we had a Meyer lemon tree in our yard when we lived in California . . . my husband used to take lemons downtown and give them to a gentleman who ran a hot dog/lemonade stand --- he said the Meyer lemons made the best lemonade . . . can’t wait to try the pie recipe!

  3. The world *does* need more pie! Thank you for sharing your story.

    The kids and I are attempting to make "pumpkin pie from a pumpkin" today. Whether the pie turns out or not, I'm sure we'll be laughing a lot (and scraping pumpkin off of every surface in the kitchen...).

    I grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa (which is just down the road from Eldon and the American Gothic House), so we will wave next time we pass by!

  4. I don't know where the phrase "Easy as pie" came from because pie ain't easy to make. It's one of the few deserts I can never get right.

  5. I've never made a pie in my life! But your picture is so enticing I may just try my hand at this one!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  6. Beth, I am sorry for the loss of your husband. People handle grief and fear in such different ways. Thank you for sharing how pies helped you through yours.

    Best of luck with all of your future pie-related adventures!

  7. Oh my goodness, what a surprise to see you here. Beth, I have read your book, more than once, and have shared it with friends. Your story touched me, and I thank you for writing it.

  8. Beth, what an interesting story you've made of your own life, taking it in such daring directions, and making sweetness out of something that could have made you so very bitter.

    I'm about to embark on my own adventure in a couple of months, also involving an RV. I'm scared to death, but knowing that another woman has done such a thing helps a lot. Is your blog still live? I'd like to read it.

    Pie is way better than cake, in my opinion. I'm impressed that you have made 100 pies each weekend, using just one oven! You must work on the crusts all week, and freeze them, yes?

    What's your favorite kind, other than the lemon?

  9. Jennifer, read my book "Making Piece" and I PROMISE you, you won't fear making pie again. What I like to emphasize is "pie is not about perfection." There's no right or wrong. And by all means, it should look homemade. Make sure you use enough water in your crust to hold it together and enough flour on your rolling surface to keep it from sticking. Don't work the dough too much or it will get tough. Keep a light touch -- both in pie making and in life! Good luck. - Beth Howard

  10. Beth, I love your story, and the book and potential movie sound great.

    My mom was a great pie maker, an art I've never mastered, but just reading about it brings back good memories.

    Which issue of Real Simple were you featured in? I might still have it!

  11. Welcome Beth,
    What an amazing and inspirational story! The JRs seem to find such extraordinary people - (thanks Lucy!)So many things touched me in your post. And I may take a crack at that recipe when I see my pal from Iowa (Dubuque)this weekend - blond, adventurous, a great cook and she has a lemon tree in her backyard!
    Will look for you on the Food Channel...

  12. Hi Deb, I was in the May issue of Real Simple. It's a great article, hope you'll be able to find it.
    Oh, and Karen in Ohio, my favorite pie is apple. Though I do love blackberry. And pumpkin... The list is long! - Beth Howard

  13. Welcome, Beth. What a fascinating story! Thanks for sharing.

    I can't imagine driving an RV all over the country, but pies I can do. Learned from my grandmother as a child. And you're definitely right--the world needs more pies!

  14. Beth, you actually live in the American Gothic House? Can you say more about that? I can't imagine living in what amounts to a museum.

    Blackberry is one of my favorites, too. I once made a raspberry/nectarine pie that was to. die. for. Unbelievably delicious. The only reason I added the nectarines was because only the top layer of the berries were good, and I didn't have time to get more. A very happy accident, but I didn't write down the proportions, darn it.

  15. I have to make this. Lemon is my husband's favorite. We are mourning the very recent loss of our daughter. I know I must focus on something that is giving and hopeful. Some days it seems too hard. A few days after she died we found out that we may be facing new loss. Still, I know that I must have hope for the present, if not the future.

  16. What an incredible story, Beth -- I'm crying and cheering for you.

    Pie is a true comfort food, and one of my favorite things in the world. Especially apple pie in (now) apple season.

    I was cheering when I saw your crust uses Crisco. I hope you dont minda pie baking question. Any tips on how to keep the bottom crust from turning into a soggy (think: wallpaper paste) mess?

  17. Reine:

    My deepest sympathy to you and your family on the loss of your daughter. Please know that people are thinking of you and praying for you.

  18. Joan, thank you. The Reds and friends have been a wonderful and great help. Beth's blog today is just what I needed... like an angel escorted here by Lucy. xo

  19. Beth, what a great piece (excuse the pun) in Real Simple! That issue was on the top of my unread pile...

    Reine, we miss you and are thinking of you.

  20. Reine, hoping for a better outcome from your new challenge. And yes, baking pie and coming back to hang with old friends are both great ways to be hopeful. xoxoxo

  21. Oh, this is so wonderful..and it is so poignant to hear how your life has changed... the restorative power of pie is...the loveliest thing.

    Okay, I'll admit it. I'm, um, not a pie fan. Although I do love the fragrance of a baking apple pie...or pumpkin.

    But your lemon pie sounds fabulous. Fabulous.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful post..and your inspiration..xo

  22. Reine, glad you stopped over today. And really glad to have brought you an angel!

    Beth is "appearing" on Martha Stewart book, but I know she'll be back over...

    Beth, I have to confess, the crust recipe I use involves oil, not Crisco or butter. It comes from my dad and it's sooooo easy. Is that a terrible faux-pas for a true pie baking expert?

  23. Wow, I was busy for a few hours doing my interview on Martha Stewart Living's "Book Talk Radio" and look how many comments! Thanks, everyone for writing and for your sweet thoughts.

    Reine, I am so very sorry about your loss. Pie does heal -- both the tactile experience of making it, but ESPECIALLY the act of sharing it with others. I learned that making others happy (be it with homemade pie or other gifts of the heart) can in turn make you feel better too. Grief is a long road. Be gentle with yourself. And take your time.

    With love,
    Beth Howard

    PS: Am LOVING my time here in New York City! Writing to you from Starbucks in Time Square -- a far cry from Eldon, Iowa!!!

  24. What a great story, Beth. I love making pies and having been taught by my aunt, I feel a strong connection every time I make one.

    I am now dying to try the Shaker Lemon Pie recipe.

    We are talking whole lemons, UNPEELED?

    thanks for coming to Jungle REd

  25. Beth, wonderful story, you have amazing strength that has carried you through your loss and into your new life...

    Best with all you want to do, I can't imagine you not doing it, as you have come so far

    thanks for sharing

  26. Beth's such an inspiration. Her blog is wonderful. Be good to check it out, if you're not reading it now. Her pie recipes are great, too.

  27. Thanks for visiting us on JRW Beth! Now we can all go off and make pie...

  28. Jan, yes, the lemons are unpeeled. You use the ENTIRE lemon which is what makes Shaker lemon pie so zesty and good. Note that the lemons need to be sliced PAPER THIN otherwise the skin makes the pie difficult to slice. I bought a mandoline (at Target for $18) and that helps get the slices thin enough and quickly. What slows you down though is picking out the seeds. Let me know how your pie turns out!
    Beth Howard