Bess Richardson, left, and Eliza Greenhoe-Berg make and fill pie crusts last week in the basement kitchen of Dummerston Congregation Church.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Bess Richardson, left, and Eliza Greenhoe-Berg make and fill pie crusts last week in the basement kitchen of Dummerston Congregation Church.

In praise of pie … and everything apple

Dummerston bakers prepare to celebrate the 54th annual Pie Festival, while Newfane’s pie ladies get ready for the 52nd annual Heritage Festival

If baking hundreds of apple pies can make one as affable as the ladies of the Dummerston Congregational Church and the Newfane Congregational Church, we should all grab a bushel.

Despite the devastating effects of the May frost on the apple crop statewide, in Dummerston, pie lady Sallie May says her group will bake "as many pies as we can" for the church's 54th annual Pie Festival.

"Because of the problem with obtaining good-quality apples due to the late freeze this spring - and because we've had requests in prior years - we have decided to not only try to make a hearty quantity of apple pies, but we are also expanding our menu to include some pumpkin, blueberry, and maple walnut pies as well," May says.

The Festival here opens on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. and, as May puts it, the ladies will "sell until we're sold out or the crew is exhausted, whichever comes first."

The tent is new this year, so there will be plenty of shade in which to enjoy a slice of pie and a cup of coffee.

The Dummerston ladies - and some gentlemen - have been preparing pies for days, with groups working at the church weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 5 to 9 p.m. all last week and this week through Thursday.

Bess Richardson, who has been baking pies for the Festival for 40 years, says in years gone by the goal was to produce 1,400 to 1,500 pies.

"And we used to do it," she says. "But now we have a lot of competition, so we've cut back to 1,000 pies. We work pretty hard."

The Festival started with homemakers, Richardson says.

"When the trains used to come here back 50 years or so, then buses would pick people up from the trains and take them for foliage tours. Some of the women started making the pies at home and sold slices when folks stopped for dinner in Dummerston."

Now the church kitchen is equipped with three big pizza ovens that each hold a dozen 9-inch pies.

When they were turning out 1,500 pies, the ladies used 19 bushels of apples. Now, says Richardson, it is "considerably less."

"We had a lot of trouble finding apples, but Read Miller [of Dwight Miller Orchards] found us apples somewhere," Richardson says, adding the ladies prefer Cortland apples for their pies, for which they use the same recipe they've been using for 54 years.

"It's just a pretty straightforward apple pie recipe," she says.

Miller says the group will "have more than enough apples," adding some came from his family's orchard and some came from Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts.

"This farm has been putting apples at the peelers' fingertips since the festival began," says Miller, who notes that "Windham County seemed to get walloped pretty hard" by the uncharacteristic spring freeze.

"We have a small crop, and we'll have apples for a while, but we won't be doing a lot of wholesaling - just farmers' market and retail," he says.

The process of getting pies made is a time-tested assembly line in Dummerston.

"We have a setup with a section of pie dough rollers, and then there's a person filling the pies, and a person mixing the spices the filler puts in," Richardson says.

And the apples have their own production line.

"Then there's someone peeling, and somebody will core them, and then they come to a big table with lots of people who core and slice, and then they come back to the filler," she continues.

Does she actually enjoy the work?

"I do," she says. "And I like the pies, too."

Costs at the Dummerston Pie Festival will be $20 for fruit pies, $18 for pumpkin and $22 for Vermont-maple walnut, with slices going for $6 each.

Newfane Heritage Festival focuses on apple pies and crisps

Baking appears to not only be in the DNA of the ladies who bake but part of their love language as well.

To a person, they also possess a characteristic good humor that seems to come with the territory.

Do you like apples?

"I used to," says Newfane Church's chief pie maker Ann Allbee with a laugh. "No, I actually kind of like it. The last week of baking we serve apple pie as a snack for everybody who comes to help and, I have to say, it was pretty good."

Chief baker Marie Malmstedt is unequivocal.

"I love apple pie," she says.

This year's Newfane Heritage Festival will take place on Saturday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For 52 years, the festival has been a big part of the Newfane Church and the community. It offers a juried selection of work from artists and craftspeople, as well as food, a Super Raffle, and live entertainment.

Pie making here starts the first Wednesday in September and continues for four Wednesdays. The day starts around 9:30 a.m. with volunteer apple peelers, apple slicers, pan fillers, dough rollers, and bakers gathered around the tables working to produce about 50 pies a day.

Church Administrator Billie Stark says this year the group was able to source apples locally from Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, ordering four bushels at a time over four weeks for a total of 16 bushels to make about 210 pies.

There's a time-proven process here to prepare pies, too.

"We have a recipe and an assembly line," Allbee says. "We have someone get the apples on Tuesdays - one of the guys, usually - and some of the guys peel them with peelers attached to the table.

"Then we have 15 to 20 people who core and slice them, and then two who sugar and cinnamon them, and then usually one dough maker who uses the same recipe we've been using for probably 15 years, and five or six rollers," she continues.

And then there's the baker, Malmstedt, who says she "kind of fell into" the role.

Allbee says that, with just two ovens to cook 16 pies at a time, baking takes a long time, "and Marie is willing to stay until three in the afternoon."

Before she puts the pies in to bake, Malmstedt says, "I flatten 'em out a little bit so they fit in the ovens, and then we have this metal thing that kind of scores them into seven pieces and gives them air vents. Then I brush them with milk and sprinkle more cinnamon and sugar." You can't go wrong with cinnamon and sugar."

Allbee says the group usually uses Cortland apples but this year received mostly Ida Reds.

"With enough cinnamon and sugar, it doesn't matter what kind of apple it is, but we never use McIntoshes. They're too mushy."

Allbee says prices have gone up for the first time in three years because "we had such a hard time finding apples."

"We didn't know until five days before we started baking if we could get them," she says, adding that this week the bakers will go through three more bushels to make two sizes of apple crisps.

Allbee has been baking for the Festival at least 17 years and Malmstedt for eight years. The event is not only the church's main fundraiser, it's also an effort that supports charitable giving throughout the community.

"And the community members work so hard," Allbee says. "Half the cutters and rollers we had today weren't even members of the church."

Clearly, getting ready for the festival is a group effort. As Allbee says, "everybody has a job and I have a lot of helpers."

"It's huge," she says of the fair. "Just pray it's good weather. But we always have a good time."

This Special section item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates