Great Pies For a Good Cause

By Corby Kummer
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Image Courtesy of Community Servings


As many of us settle into an annual case of pie panic, or are pushing back chairs after too much pumpkin and pecan, I have a trunk full of four perfect and beautiful pies--one apple, two pecan, two pumpkin. I only opted out of sweet potato.

Are these the best pies my family and friends--29, my cousin Jed, our genial host, informs me, down from the 32 my father mentioned when I saw him and my stepmother on Sunday--will ever have? Well, until next year, when I bring back more pies, all from different restaurants and bakeries. This year I plan to generously cut and serve three of the pies--and be very stingy with the the pecan one baked by Sofra, a new Turkish-themed bakery and restaurant whose chef, Ana Sortun, appeared in our video cooking her husband Chris Kurth's produce in her kitchen at Oleana restaurant. At Sofra, Maura Kilpatrick, her partner and pastry chef, makes pastries that are much too good, including chocolate-hazelnut baklava with cocoa honey; I can't wait to see what she does with pecans and (usually cloying, near-unbearable) corn syrup.

David Waters had the brilliant idea of tapping into America's collective fear of pie crusts, and I had a mandate never to make a pie again, at least not at Thanksgiving.

Milquetoast! you cry. Don't you know how to make a crust? Well, yes, I spent years as an obsessive, persistent pie crust maker, writing articles far more patient and and perfectionist than Choire Sicha's raucously funny "Stop Being A Wuss"pie-crust instructions this week. If my mother made pies every day for a month when she was first married to teach herself how, I could take many classes and make a crust nearly as light, and I documented my efforts in one of my first Atlantic columns. Every year I would dare my family, assembled at our Connecticut Thanksgiving, to say my late mother made a better pie crust (of course, she did).

But then David Waters had the brilliant idea of tapping into America's, or at least Boston's, collective fear of pie crusts, and I had a mandate never to make a pie again, at least not at Thanksgiving.

David, then head of fundraising for Community Servings, Boston's only home-delivered meals program for people homebound with AIDS and their families, thought that local restaurants and bakeries could donate pies that people too lazy or fearful--sorry, busy--to bake would happily pay for. Pie in the Sky, he said it should it be called. Proud pie crust bakers like me thought it an odd, marginal idea. Boy, was I wrong.

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Photo Courtesy of Community Servings

Today Pie in the Sky is one of our two most important fundraisers of the year--and as of the middle of Wednesday it had sold $420,000 worth of pies at $25 apiece, our biggest year ever. That's not just a lot of pies. It's dozens of restaurants, bakeries and, even more important, terrifically energetic and inventive volunteers who spend months marketing and organizing the mobilization that's just ending as I write. The event has come a long way from the days when I rented a station wagon to make emergency deliveries on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and called up large commercial bakers to twist their arms to supply pies at cost when our orders outran supplies.

Community Servings has come a long way, too. Amazingly to those of us who've been involved since the beginning, it's about to celebrate its 20th birthday, in a great new building I pass every night on the way home in Jamaica Plain, Boston's best neighborhood (okay, the country's, but I'm not prejudiced). David Waters is now our visionary CEO. We've expanded way beyond Boston city limits, too, into much of eastern Massachusetts, and beyond the original HIV/AIDS mission to include many other illnesses that keep people at home and unable to cook for themselves and their families.

More another time on the remarkable professional kitchen and staff that turns out thousands of meals a week of very high quality, finely differentiated according to various dietary needs. For now, a column by the Boston Globe's Yvonne Abraham on what keeps us all dedicated: going out on a delivery van with one of the drivers who become family friends. Abraham went out with the remarkable Bobcat Smith, a former heroin and cocaine user who met his current wife when she trained him at Community Servings. He's a great guy. But in fact all the drivers are remarkable, and all form a strong and healing bond with the people they serve. Here's Smith:

"I loved the way they made me feel when I brought their meals to them, the love and respect they gave me,'' he said. "We got attached.'' One day, he knocked on the door and the husband appeared, tears streaming down his face. His wife had died. "I cried with him for 45 minutes,'' Bobcat says.

Bobcat will be out on the road again today, making special Thanksgiving deliveries, his bags heavy with roast turkey, herbed stuffing, and sugar-free pumpkin pie. He will chat with the people who seem to need it, and sing for the ones who will let him.

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Image Courtesy of Community Servings

The days before Thanksgiving pose a huge logistical challenge for the Community Servings staff: not just getting the last of thousands of pies out the door but also a week's worth of meals and a special Thanksgiving menu and bag of separate fixings.

That's over. The mission isn't. And neither is the chance to support Community Servings, either with a donation here or, even better, one of the great posters that make me think Josephine Baker is going to pop out of one of our pies at the Thanksgiving table. All of us who work with CS have stolen a poster (or two) since they first came in, two or so months ago. We'll be selling the leftovers for $15, and maybe there'll be enough to sell the equally terrific-looking labels for each of the four kinds of pies, which some of us plan to frame. Non-edible leftovers suitable for framing, that help feed others! A true reason to give thanks.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/11/great-pies-for-a-good-cause/30891/