The American Gothic House Part I: Pitchfork Pie Stand

by Kee Kee on November 23, 2010

in American Gothic House,Iowa

Yes we have pie!

Pie Heals.  Pie is comfort food.  Pie makes people happy.  I’ve been hearing these bits of wisdom for years now from my friend Beth Howard.  My road trip journey is about healing, finding comfort and finding happiness, so it was a no brainer that I should visit Beth and put her nuggets of wisdom to the test.  The icing on the cake, err, I mean the pie, is that Beth just moved into the American Gothic House.  Yes, the historic one.  The one in the background of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic.

American Gothic House

I never even knew the house was real until Beth phoned me from Iowa where she had traveled to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair and told me that she was moving into this historic home in Eldon, Iowa.  I have so much to say about the American Gothic House that I’ll save that for another blog entry.  For now, let’s talk pie!

Beth Howard in front of her famous home. Photo credit John Gaps III.

Beth is truly a pie whisperer and her pie blog has garnered a lot of press, recently landing a picture in November’s issue of Better Homes and Gardens and a mention in last week’s New York Times.  The thing about Beth is, she’s the real deal.  She not only believes in her heart of hearts that pie heals, but she is living proof of the power of pie.  A year ago Beth’s husband Marcus unexpectedly passed away and Beth found herself a widow.  Her grief was deep and her searing pain palpable.  I’m sure she was tempted to crawl into bed and stay there for all eternity.  Yet instead, she dove headfirst into the world of pie.  Beth’s passion for travel takes a close second to her passion for pie, so in order to jump-start her healing, she combined the two and hopped in her late husband’s RV to travel the country and explore pie.  Through her tears on the road, she baked pie, wrote about pie, ate pie and gave away free pie.  At one point I even joined her for a weekend at California’s Faria Beach and convinced her we should bake a gluten-free cherry pie on the RV.  Over the past year I’ve watched Beth learn to cope with her loss and slowly come back to life.

Beth runs her pie business, Pitchfork Pie Stand, out of the American Gothic House each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  When I arrived exhausted on a Thursday night after 9 hours of driving, she handed me a glass of wine before I even got out of my car…and then promptly informed me that we’d be getting up bright and early the next morning to make pie.  True to her word, after morning lattes and a dog walk through the neighboring soybean field, she put me to work peeling granny smith apples for the pies.  As we worked side by side, me peeling apples and her assembling the pies, our conversation grew more and more quiet.  Eventually we stopped talking altogether.  It wasn’t until later that I realized how meditative our work was.  The apple peeling really helped me accomplish what is often so difficult with my Zen meditation practice:  letting go of thought and just being present.  The process was so enjoyable that I even tackled a huge basket of pears and made pear sauce while the pies were baking.  The smells in the kitchen were mouth watering:  pear sauce simmering on the stove and fresh out-of-the-oven apple crumble pie, apple pie and pecan pie.  With those smells lingering around the house, I knew I wouldn’t make it through the week without pie so we made me a gluten-free apple pie.  I had a piece every single day I was there.

Beth with Pitchfork Pie Stand customers

Helping Beth with Pitchfork Pie Stand sales was great fun too.  We had fantastic weather Saturday so we actually set up the stand outside.  While the dogs dug up mole tunnels, we enjoyed sharing travel stories with tourists who visited the American Gothic House for pictures and ended up happily leaving with our freshly baked pies.

Now that I’ve left Beth’s house to continue on my road trip, I’m having pie-withdrawal.  Thank goodness Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I have an excuse to eat more pie.  But then again, as I’ve learned from Beth, you really don’t need an excuse to eat pie.  We should all eat pie all the time because pie heals, pie is comfort food, and pie really does make people happy.

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Beth Howard November 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Wow, Christine, this is the best Thank You card you could send! I had no idea the pie baking made such an impact on you. Yay to that! Also, your story captured the essence of what pie means to me and how it has helped me, something that is hard for me to articulate myself. I was very touched to read your thoughtful take on it. May both our journeys continue to be fulfilling…and pie-filled. PS: Looking forward to reading American Gothic House: Part 2!

Janine Kennedy November 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm

I knew it! You know 50 years ago when the country people used to sit on the back porch at the end of summer and cream corn, shell beans and peel tomatoes? I maintain that it was the nature of the work that gave rise to the cognitive peace that allowed everyone to fall asleep peacefully every night, and gave rise to the granny-wisdom. Isn’t washing dishes the same thing? No wonder I love to hand-wash the dishes…great observation, Kee Kee. You must be a Kung-Fu Master by now, grasshopper…

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