PIE IN THE SKY
By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
ELLENDALE – Corn and soybean fields surround St. Joseph Church.
But you won’t find any of those ingredients in the parish’s famous, made-from-scratch apple pies.
“We can’t tell you the ingredients,” Betty Pridie said with a twinkle in her eye. “We’d have to kill you.”
Seriously, if you have the time to motor on Plymouth County Road K-22 on a Wednesday this month and walk down to the lower level of the church, the volunteers most likely will share what makes their apple pies so famous that they typically create more than 1,000 for sale each year and run out.
Since 1989, a handful of parishioners, mostly female, have sliced and diced, folded, molded and sold in excess of 22,000 pies.
The volunteers crafting the pies on Sept. 3 called off numerous names of women who were part of the “founding members” of the Pie Ladies, but arrived at a consensus that parishioner Ann DeRocher came up with the original idea.
“She got the idea from our former pastor, Father Jim Bruch, who had been doing it at Holy Family Church in Lidderdale,” said Pridie, one of those founders. “At that time, it was really necessary to pay high heating costs in winter.”
Pie in the sky
What the volunteers may not have anticipated was the overwhelming success of the fundraiser – more than 700 pies were sold. They realized most folks don’t have the time to make an apple pie from scratch or if they do, there is usually something wrong with the filling or the crust, which Pridie stressed was the secret to their delectable dessert.
A quarter century ago, pies sold for $4. Today, they go for $9 – a bargain when you consider the time and TLC – and all you need to add is some ice cream, something St. Joseph pastor Msgr. Mark Duchaine incorporates.
“I prefer my Ellendale Famous Apple Pie warm, right out of the oven, and with a big dollop of French vanilla ice cream on the side,” he said.
Almost everything related to the pies is donated, and the start-to-finish process would impress any Master Chef.
Several years ago, to save on tired hands and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, the parish invested in nifty apple peeler appliances, said Fred Scheifen, one of a handful of men volunteering this day.
“The peeler is clamped to the table,” he demonstrated. “The apple is placed on the tines. Both ends are cut off and a knife on the appliance cuts the skin, spiraling it off, kind of like an accordion. Then, the peels are used for animal feed.”
Scheifen, who has been helping for the past five years, confessed he had no training on the appliance before getting the peeler job.
“I guess they thought with my farm background, I’d be OK,” the 60-year-old said.
Workers continue to filter in about mid-morning to begin the process of making the crust. Efficiency continues as a large mixing machine – just like one at a commercial bakery – kneads the dough, a far better strategy than those ladies who rolled out every crust.
“The machine is a blessing!” insisted Virginia Rohmiller, another founding Pie Lady, who tended the mixer.
Volunteers make the dough into a brick and De Saulsbury puts it through a pizza crust machine that presses it for the bottom and top crusts.
“They call me the Holy Roller!” she quipped.
Then, Saulsbury confided, “Putting the dough through the machine twice takes a toll on your shoulders. I make sure I take rest breaks.”
“We stop for coffee about 10 a.m.,” said Mary Jane Tapper. “We break for dinner – this is a farming community so our mid-day meal is still called dinner – around 11:30 or noon.”
“I think we have men volunteers just because of dinner,” Saulsbury noted. “We all potluck the food and it’s all homemade.”
One might consider the pies’ piece de resistance the filling, Pridie said.
“We don’t skimp,” she insisted, as she dumped four cups of apples into the tin containing the bottom pie crust.
Most work days conclude about 1:30 p.m. because the shelves in the freezers are full, thanks to 87-year-old Charles Pridie.
“I started volunteering in 1992,” the husband of Betty noted. “Why? Well, I had farmed for 45 years and retired and then worked for 18 years, then retired, so I guess I was looking for something to do. And working with these ladies was a nice plus. Maybe, you could call me a trend setter.”
Mmm … good
Msgr Duchaine felt the project is a good fit for the parish.
“It really brings the people together in pursuit of a common mission, the support of St. Joseph Parish,” he said. “Plus, it’s just good fun for the folks to work and laugh together.”
And just how good are the pies?
“Well, to be honest, I’m not big on pies,” Betty Pridie admitted.
“My mom was a great baker, and I would have stacked any one of her pies against anyone else’s,” Msgr. Duchaine said. “But, in point of fact, Ellendale’s apple pies are the best I have ever had, bar none.”
The pies are sold frozen with instructions on baking that, according to Msgr. Duchaine, “even a man can follow.”
“The only thing I had to learn the hard way is that you have to –I repeat, have to – place the pie on a cookie sheet when it goes into the oven,” he cautioned. “The darn things are so juicy that, if you don’t, you will find your smoke alarm going off due to drippage. Plus, you’ll have to clean your oven afterwards.”
Pies need to be ordered by Sept. 24. Contact Joan Yoerger at (712) 239-3699 or (712) 259-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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