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Calling all pie makers to Harford

The Baltimore Sun

Marianne Donovan and Alice Remsberg scooped up handfuls of blueberries from boxes, sifted out the stems and leaves, and then dribbled the berries into a large bowl.

When the bowl was heaped with blueberries, Nora Cohee poured them into foil tins and dropped slices of butter on top.

On the other side of the counter, Nina Cerasoli measured and mixed the ingredients needed to make pie crusts.

As soon as she completed the crust dough, Carmella Fifty, Laura Russo and Virginia Remsberg rolled it out, and cut out strips and shapes that they used to decorate the tops of the pies.

"We wanted to do something that would bring out people who are skilled and novice pie makers," said Remsberg, 44, of Fallston.

"We thought that people without experience would be more comfortable with experienced bakers."

The women gathered for "Pie Making 101" at Grace Episcopal Church in Darlington to make 52 blueberry pies for the 11th annual Blueberry Festival this weekend, a fundraiser that has provided support for Deer Creek Meeting for seven years, and Harford Friends School for the past four years.

The pie-making event was held to recruit new pie makers to make a large number of pies, Remsberg said. Last year, they made about 100 pies that sold for $12 to $15 at the festival.

The event raised more than $14,000 from the pies, other blueberry baked goods, freshly picked blueberries and a silent auction, she said. This year they hope to make more than 200 blueberry pies.

"Last year, the pies were sold fast," said Cerasoli, 40, of Jarretsville.

"It was like a drive-through pie pick-up."

"To make that many pies we need a lot of help," said Remsberg, who works as an arts coordinator and has two children who attend the school: Emma, an eighth-grader, and Becky, a sixth-grader. "There are many people who don't think they can make pies, so we offered the pie-making class at the church to recruit people to help."

Cerasoli came to the pie-making class because her experience with pie making for the event didn't end well, she said. She made two pies the first year, four pies the second year.

"My pies were misshapen, and funny looking, but they sold," said Cerasoli, whose daughter, Rebecca, attends Harford Friends.

"This class was set up for people who aren't confident about making pies, so they could come and watch experienced pie makers, and see that making pies isn't that difficult."

The women showed up at the church kitchen and made pies for more than three hours.

They completed 52 pies in the session, which they took home and froze until Friday, when they were to be baked.

The session was enlightening, even for some of the more experienced bakers. Although Donovan said she is a good baker, her pies just won't gel.

"When I make pies at home, you can pour the filling out," said Donovan, 49, of Perryville, who works as a physician.

"I'm pretty sure that the filling is not supposed to do that."

However, she said she had better luck at the recent session with pie decorating, when she made tops of pies with a smiley face, spiral designs, sunflowers and blueberry clusters.

"I hope they turn out as good as they look," said Donovan. "But they aren't baked yet."

However, the women rarely get feedback on how their pies taste, said Remsberg, who coordinated the pie-making event.

"I bake a lot of pies, and the most difficult part of it is that you don't have any idea what the pie is like once someone buys them," she said.

"Unless you eat a slice of the pie, you just have to hope it tasted good."

Watching Fifty at work was humbling for Remsberg, she said.

"I used to think of myself as making nice lattice tops for my pies," Remsberg said. "But watching Carmella made me more humble about my pies."

Fifty has had a lot of time to learn to make pies.

One of six children, Fifty's mother made homemade pies and had her gathering peaches and peeling apples as soon as she could hold a peeler, she said.

"My mother made pies every time we picked a bushel of this or that," said Fifty, 52, of Churchville, whose son, Joseph, graduated from Harford Friends School this year.

She made her first pie in a seventh-grade home economics class - a lemon meringue pie, she said.

"There were just three of us in the class," Fifty said. "The pie was so good. We each got to eat a third of it."

For years she has made pies for Sunday dinners and holidays, she said.

Although making pies comes easy for her, making pie crust from scratch is very time-consuming, she said.

At the recent pie making class, she put her creative mind to work making pies that had stars, hearts, and lattice tops.

"I enjoy making pies," she said.

"I am an artist and I love to try new things."

Fifty said the key to making tasty pastries is simple.

"The secret to my success making pies is enjoying it," she said.

"Take the time to really get into it. We did a lot of work in the session, but we're never rushed, and we had fun."

Baking tips

Experienced pie-maker Carmella Fifty offered some tips for new pie makers:

*Measure ingredients correctly.

*Use cold water when making crust from scratch.

*Don't let the crust get too warm, before rolling it out, because it will get mushy.

*Use a marble rolling pin. They are heavy, and they stay cold. The pastry doesn't stick.

*Use a granite countertop or a pastry cloth when rolling out the crust dough.

*Follow directions closely.

*Add extra berries. If the recipe calls for 4 cups, put in 5 cups.

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