With very few exceptions, I love pie. And I love to travel. So when my wife Sherry recently suggested we devote part of our Saturday to a road trip to Eldon, Iowa, to visit Pitchfork Pie Stand, I was ready to go.
Eldon is a pleasant little community but, frankly, not Iowa’s most exciting city.
Before the pie lady, Beth M. Howard, moved to town, bringing renewed publicity to the place, Eldon’s main claim to fame was the American Gothic House and its church-like, second-floor window beneath the roof peak. It served as the backdrop for artist Grant Wood’s famous painting of a man in overalls holding a pitchfork and a woman wearing an apron.
We’d seen the State Historical Society of Iowa-owned American Gothic House in the past. So the main attraction for us was Howard, who lives in the house and sells homemade pies there at her Pitchfork Pie Stand.
I’d read a newspaper review of Howard’s 2012 Harlequin-published memoir, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie.” Sherry had read a profile of Howard in the August 2012 issue of Guideposts and had bought her book and started to read it.
Howard is a survivor who has a remarkable story to tell.
Though she is a graduate of Davenport Assumption High School, she was born in Ottumwa and spent her early years there.
In 2001, while living on the West Coast, Howard quit her web-producing job to bake pies at a gourmet deli in Malibu. TV and movie stars were among her customers. She started her popular blog, theworldneedsmorepie.com, in 2007.
In 2009, Howard was living in Texas when she filed for divorce from Marcus, her 43-year-old husband of six years. But just hours before he was due to sign the divorce papers, he died suddenly and unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta.
Grief and guilt from the sudden loss gripped Howard, and she thought she’d be unable to go on.
But writing about her grief helped. So did a pie-related trip around the country in the couple’s RV, where she interviewed pie bakers, visited fruit orchards and spread the word about pie.
“I found that pie was this amazing connecting force between people,” Howard said in a Huffington Post article.
In the summer of 2010, a year after Marcus’ death, Beth Howard returned to her native Iowa to, quite appropriately, judge pies at the Iowa State Fair.
Though her parents no longer lived in Ottumwa, she drove there after the fair and looked up the house she grew up in, her old grade school and her dad’s office building.
Later, while driving east on Highway 34, Howard saw a sign for the American Gothic House in Eldon and drove there to see it. When she learned the house was for rent and had been vacant for two years, the wheels started turning. Two weeks later Howard was moving in, and Pitchfork Pie Stand was conceived.
Now, starting Thursdays, Howard bakes up to 100 pies. She sells them from noon to 5 Saturdays and Sundays from summer through Labor Day at the famous house. The large (9 inch) pies are $20, mini pies are $6 and slices go for $3.
Business was steady during our visit. One couple said they’d driven six hours to get there.
As Howard placed our purchases in individual white boxes adorned with red, yellow or blue checkerboard ribbons, I asked her if Iowa’s hot summer had caused her to regret her move here.
“I’m still very happy here,” she said.
Howard, who said she is familiar with North Scott Press, is a journalist. “But I don’t have time to write anything anymore,” she lamented.
That’s because in addition to baking and selling pies, she also does “book events” all over the country that include readings and pie-making demonstrations and classes. She also makes regular appearances on national TV shows.
“I’m seriously maxed out at the moment,” she said. “It’s been fun, but it’s been a really busy summer, there’s no doubt.”
During our visit, the pie flavors available for sale were shaker lemon, peach, peach crumble, strawberry and strawberry crumble. Some apple pies were still in the oven.
“I don’t sell chocolate pie, and I don’t have cherry pie,” she asserted. “Who’s going to pit all those cherries? Not me!”
Howard is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of person. So don’t be surprised if she utters some colorful language when you stop in.
In describing some of her pies to a customer, she said, “I have to say, if you ask me, these look (expletive) awesome.”
A few days prior to our visit to Pitchfork Pie Stand, Larry the Cable Guy and his camera crew had stopped in to shoot a future episode of his “Only in America” TV show on the History Channel.
“Did he install cable for you,” I jokingly asked Howard.
She replied: “I don’t have television here. (The camera crew) noted I don’t have a TV and remarked about it.”
But she does have pie, and it’s delicious.
Copyright 2012 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as an “Everyday People” column to North Scott Press.