August 21, 2012

Creating Community with Pie: Inspired by “Making Piece” by Beth Howard

Pie is community glue, its very own language of love.

“That blueberry looks just like the pie my grandma baked,” one grizzly old guy tells me at the Hector Fireman’s Fair. I grin and laugh and ask my friend to cut this old timer an extra-large slice.

Beth Howard loves pie. I finished reading her book Making Piece: A memoir of love, loss, and pie on the day I was baking for the fair. Love, loss…and pie?

Howard had a passionate and rocky nine year marriage to Marcus. She followed him and his business responsibilities around the world, but eventually decided that even if she loved him, she needed a different life. A few hours before he was to sign the divorce papers, she got a phone call saying Marcus had collapsed and died. So begins Howard’s saga of grieving, guilt, and recovery. She was already a journalist as well as a professional pie baker, so she packed Marcus’s RV, hit the road with a film-maker friend, and created a reality series about pie. Her whimsical journey ended when she rented the American Gothic House, the cottage in Grand Wood’s famous painting, near her Iowa birthplace and set up the Pitchfork Pie Stand for tourists.

I loved Howard’s ability to turn a grief memoir into an adventure. Her well-written stories of life, friendship, and grief make the rest of us feel we can find our way through the hard times. Her book ends with the words: “I love pie.”

While enjoying the last pages of Howard’s book, my three apple pies browned and bubbled in the oven. Vic and I first took our kids to the Hector Fair in the 1970s. Little has changed at the fairground since then, although along with kid’s rides, games, and food booths, this year’s parade included an anti-fracking float from Hector Clean Waters and a vintage truck carrying Nate Shinagawa, our Democratic and environmentally friendly candidate for US Congress.

Nate Shinagawa at the Hector Fair

My sons David and Anthony dissolved into peals of laughter on the merry-go-round when they were toddlers, thrilled at the small Ferris wheel when they were six, and took in games of chance and skill when they were teenagers. They met up with friends at their base camp, the Fries, Pies, and Corn Booth and probably found their way to the beer tent.  Vic and I spent one or two evenings each year manning the concession with other amateur bakers, ticket-takers, and cooks from Wisdom’s Goldenrod, the meditation center across the road from the fire station. Unlike most booths, we gave and still give 100% of our profits to the Hector Fire Department, our way of thanking our decidedly conservative community for tolerating our unusual pursuits of philosophy and meditation. In exchange, the fire department lets us use their folding chairs for big gatherings and their parking lot when the Dalai Lama came to visit.

This year as always, the air was heavy with hamburgers, hotdogs, and fried onions and peppers. Our booth held up the vegetarian end of the food chain, serving greasy fries and buttery corn on the cob, plus pies. Lots of pies. Since the pies are made by a wide variety of cooks, we respond to any complaint by offering a new piece of any homemade pie the hungry person chooses. All pie guaranteed. I love apple pie. What’s your favorite?

You might enjoy my wide variety of healthy vegetarian recipes.


  1. July 20, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    manuela amzallag


    Thanks Elaine How sweet an event and description of it. I hadn’t heard about it till Amy called moments ago to invite me. I want to do a short video with what I’ve learned so far at the Maine Media Workshops last week.
    Now I have a visual description thanks to you.

    1. July 20, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      The Hector Fair! I’m glad this helped your project. Sometime in the mid 1970s, Terry Moorehouse (Leidenfrost, at the time) got many of us to support the Hector Fair and our local Fire Department and community. It became a yearly thing. We’re still doing it, thanks to devoted people like Paul and Amy. We have fewer participants now but the young ones are stepping up. Vic was great on the fryer. Get out the pie plates and the cameras. The Hector Fair is in a time warp. It’s hardly changed since we bought our house in Hector in 1972.

  2. October 9, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Marian Beaman


    It’s fair season here too and fall is in the air. Thank you for the introduction to Beth Howard. Nice piece!

    1. October 9, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks Marian. I love how Beth Howard creates community with pie and realized the same happens for many of us. Pie = family and community celebration.

  3. August 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Lynne Taetzsch


    Elaine, I loved this “piece.” Making pies was an activity that brings back memories of my husband, Adrian, as well as my mother, who made the best pies I’ve ever eaten!

    1. August 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks, Lynn. I usually bake pies twice a year now–at Christmas and for the Hector Fair, but Beth Howard’s book inspired me to look more deeply into the importance of putting more love in my pies. Of course, we could say that for anything we do, but I feel hassled by baking for the Hector Fair. Too hot in July, too busy, you know the song. I am moved by your most recent personal blog–with a bit of a synchronicity as I am writing this coming week about tolerating small goodbyes. Although I have repeatedly signed up for your blog, I am not receiving notifications. I’m thinking it might because I use an unusual browser called Opera. I’m going to visit your blog with Internet Explorer to see it I can get subscribed that way.

  4. August 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Lou DeSarno


    Way to go Elaine–very nice piece!!

    1. August 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks, Lou. We’ve been working the Hector Fair for many years. Thanks for being part of my community.

  5. August 22, 2012 at 11:16 am



    Thanks, Elaine! This really left me smiling!

    1. August 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Me, too. I thank Beth Howard for reminding me why I bake pies and show up to work each year at the Hector Fair.

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