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Making Piece

(article, Beth Howard)

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p(blue). Culinate editor's notes: We're giving away a copy of Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie at 2 p.m. PT on Friday, April 6. Leave a comment on this post; we'll pick a winner randomly from all the commenters and notify that person.

p(blue). For readers in Portland, Oregon, Beth Howard will speak at Broadway Books at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 9. Kim Carlson, Culinate's editorial director, will interview Howard about her experience with grief and the healing power of pie.

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h1. About the book and author

The newly released memoir Making Piece is the story of one woman's effort to cope after her young husband's sudden death.  

Beth M. Howard is a journalist, blogger, and pie baker. In 2001, she quit a lucrative Web-producing job in San Francisco to bake "pies for the stars" at a gourmet deli in Malibu. In 2007, she launched her website, The World Needs More Pie. 

Excerpted with permission from Harlequin, copyright © 2012.

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I walked to the nearby grocery store with my empty suitcase-on-wheels and bought nine pounds of Granny Smiths. With my suitcase loaded with fruit, I returned to my hotel room to read my notes for my talk and to peel the apples I was going to use in my on-stage pie-making demo.  

“Good afternoon. I’m Beth Howard,” I recited out loud to no one while I slid the knife between the waxy green skin and the fleshy fruit. “I had long considered pie to be one of the greatest comfort foods. I even believed pie had the power to heal. So when my husband, Marcus, died . . . ” 

I could tell the story without notes. It was my story. I knew how it went. But I wasn’t sure I could tell it on a stage in front of an audience without falling apart. And anyway, the story wasn’t finished. Yes, with the help of my pie quest, I was healing, but I wasn’t done baking. My grief pie was still in the oven.

You could poke a knife in it and tell it was coming along nicely, but it — I — needed more time. Well, too bad. I had committed to giving this speech over a month ago. It was too late to back out. 

I hauled my apple-filled suitcase onto the shuttle bus for the 15-minute ride to the Disney-designed town of Celebration. That’s where the Great American Pie Festival, the sister event to the National Pie Championships, was being held. 

Open to the public, the Pie Festival was a free, family affair with pie-related activities for kids: pie-eating contests, “Piecasso” pie painting, and pie-tin art. And, for a small fee, there was an all-you-can eat pie buffet, a whole block lined with tented booths where the commercial-division kind of pies I had eaten the day before were being given away. I had already had all I could eat of those.

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h1.Beth Howard's apple-pie recipe, plus tips




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In addition to all that, there was free, live entertainment on the main open-air stage: a comedian telling pie jokes, a singer singing pie songs, a team of baton twirlers, a harmonica player, and . . . me.  

I made my way through the throngs of people in shorts and visors, and found the main stage. “Are you Beth?” a woman wearing angel wings and a walkie-talkie asked.

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Mary asked me to keep an eye out for you. She said to look for a girl in pigtails.”

[%image piestilllife float=right width=400 caption="Making apple pie: improvising a rolling pin."] 

Huh? Mary worked for Bakers Square, the sponsor of the main stage, and she was in charge of the entertainment. I had met her only in passing the night before, and had never mentioned anything about what I would be wearing, let alone my hairstyle. But yes, I did have my hair in stubby little pigtails.

“Where’d you get those cool wings?” I asked.

“I can get you a pair. Follow me.”

I followed her to the green room behind the stage, where the Pillsbury Doughboy was sitting in front of a fan, guzzling water, while his deflated costume sat in a pile next to his chair, the harmonica player was warming up, and the crew from CBS’s "The Early Show" was loading camera tape. 

The stagehand rummaged through a box and handed me my own pair of wire-formed chiffon wings, with Bakers Square logos all over them. I was so excited about flying, I didn’t mind the advertising. I glanced over at the Doughboy as I slid the elastic straps around my back. He was so hot his hair was plastered against his head. 

[%image pieslice float=left width=400 caption="A slice of Beth's pie."]

It could be worse, I thought. At least I didn’t have to walk around roasting in an oversized space suit posing for pie-festival photos.

You get what you pay for, as the old adage goes. The audience paid nothing. What they got was, well, not much more. I stood squinting against the broiling Florida sun, in the center of the stage, facing a crowd of about 80 people. A year earlier, my husband was still alive, and I was working for a speakers’ bureau. Now my husband was dead, and I was on the other side of the podium, wearing angel wings and a checkered apron, telling the world what it was like to live without him. 

“And now, I’m going to demonstrate some of the pie-making tips I learned when I worked in Malibu.”

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h1.Eating vegan, craving pie? 

Here's a vegan apple-pie recipe from another new book, Vegan Pie in the Sky, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. The book contains 75 vegan recipes for pies, tarts, cobblers, and other desserts. Find more of the authors' vegan baking recipes at Post Punk Kitchen.




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I moved back from the front edge of the stage to the table behind me that was set up with my ingredients and tools. The apples I had peeled ahead of time, heaped high in a bowl, had surprisingly not turned brown in the Florida sun. Gina had offered to assist me, acting as a pie student. 

If Janice was the Fairy Godmother of Grief, Gina was the Fairy Godmother of Pie Demos. She kept me on track as my nervous energy threatened to turn my performance into an unintentional comedy routine. “And what’s the wine bottle for?” she asked, pointing out the out-of-place prop on the table.

“Oh, I’m glad you asked. That is an example of improvisation. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can always find something to use. A wine bottle works just as well.” 

With my forehead shining and my armpits soaking wet, the stagehand gave me the three-minute warning to wrap it up. I wrapped. I took my bow. And finally, thankfully, mercifully, it was over.


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