Students, communities come together to bake local pies

Lead Baker of the College Bakeshop Michael Menard demonstrated how to bake pie crust. - Photo courtesy of Brent Wasser.
Lead Baker of the College Bakeshop Michael Menard demonstrated how to bake pie crust. – Photo courtesy of Brent Wasser.

Last Saturday, the College hosted a pie baking competition as part of programming for Food Week. The event yielded 15 student-made pies, half of which were entered to the annual Pie Potluck and People’s Choice Award at Sheep Hill that evening.

The Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program made it possible for students and their families to bake throughout the day in the American Legion kitchen on Spring Street. The kitchen was fully stocked with all the necessary ingredients for the Ephs’ creative seasonal recipes.

Student bakers worked with locally grown and sustainably produced ingredients in creating their pies. Jonagold and northern spy apples came from the Apple Barn in Bennington, Vt., sugar pumpkins came from Lakeview Orchard in Lanesborough, Mass., Mighty Food Farm in Pownal, Vt. provided organic vegetables and the dairy and eggs were all from local producers.

Michael Menard, the lead baker of the College bakeshop, made pie dough in advance that was rested and ready to roll out Saturday morning. This helped students along in the process of realizing their pies, but several teams made their own pie dough. Many recipes reflected family tradition.

“This is the all-important Flaky Crust Two,” Reed Bergwall said, as he cut butter into flour with practiced hands. He referenced a cookbook of family recipes that he had brought with him for his Family Weekend visit to see his daughter Lucy Bergwall ’15, who was busy baking a savory pie filled with mushrooms, onions, leeks and fresh goat’s milk cheese.

“Baking with people builds community,” Sonja Thalheimer ’14 said. “As does eating together,” Alix Wicker ’14 said. The kitchen was warm with the aroma of sautéing leeks.The day represented coming together in several ways. Visiting family members found making a pie to be an ideal Family Weekend activity on a chilly day in late October. Brett Bidstrup ’17 worked alongside her father Peter Bidstrup. “She loves to bake,” he said, noting that he misses her creations at home. Other parents and siblings joined students to bake, coming from as far as Minnesota.

The day culminated at Sheep Hill with a full evening program. The tables were loaded with pie from the community, resulting in over 25 options.

Menard demonstrated for a packed house how to make pie crust using butter, flour and water. “Pie is a rustic desert,” he said, as he cut one pound of cold Cabot butter into five and a half cups of Vermont-grown pastry flour. He added just enough water to begin forming a cohesive mass. “Butter contains water, which releases steam to produce a flaky crust,” he said. He assembled a pie filled with Williamstown apples, which baked to perfection in the clay oven outside.

The indulging and judging began after a sing-a-long session. Contestants patiently waited for the results because while the reward of eating was certainly welcome, winning first place couldn’t hurt. Lani Wilmar ’15 and Angela Liu ’15 had high hopes for their entry – a maple pumpkin pie. Mendy Bindell ’16, however, was sure to scoop up a portion of his family recipe for apple pie with oat crumble topping.

Menard praised the creativity and presentation of a vegan carrot pie submitted by Erik Romano ’15, who made the crust with coconut oil and thickened the pie with ground chia seeds.

Around 8:30 p.m., Executive Director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation Leslie Reed-Evans drew the crowd together to announce the results. Ephs took home all of the prizes. Runner-up was the team of Lucy Bergwall, Thalheimer and Wicker for their savory vegetable-and-cheese pie made with produce from Mighty Food Farm. Robin Gimm ’14 and Beth Cornett ’14 won the grand prize for their lemon cheesecake pie made with Champlain Valley organic cream cheese.

Students agree that baking could take a more central role on campus. “There surely aren’t enough good cooking spaces or accessible ingredients,” Wicker said. Cornett wishes that there were more experiences available to students to learn how to bake, as one of the only opportunities that exists at the College is through Winter Study courses. Adrienne Strait ’15 was happy to have the opportunity to bake at the College. “It’s been great,” she said. “I love baking pies. I bake pies at home all the time.”

The Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program will surely offer more opportunities for students to learn about sustainable ingredients and baking. As Pie Day showed, good food draws families and communities together.


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  1. Pingback: Thanks, Brent! | Eden Project

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