Love That Country Pie
Who doesn’t love pie? It’s an American classic, with apple pie right up there with Mom as an all-American symbol. Pie has been an American staple since the Pilgrims started baking them with local fruits and berries. And to this day, pumpkin pie has a place of honor at the Thanksgiving table.
To get the scoop on how a good pie is made, we visited the folks at New England Country Bakers, a family-owned and -operated business in Watertown that has been making pies for 24 years. “Pie is our specialty,” says Donna Spivak-Nadien, who currently runs the baking facility with her husband, Larry Nadien. We understand that immediately as the unmistakable aroma of apple pie baking fills the air.
“There’s something about pie that’s so nostalgic,” Donna says. And it certainly is for her—Donna’s parents began the family business in Yorktown, N.Y., at their restaurant, Grandma’s of Yorktown, where they made quite a name for themselves with 30 varieties of homemade pie on the menu. But the restaurant’s facilities limited the number of pies they could produce. So the family moved the operation to a wholesale and retail outlet in Waterbury in 1991, and then hit upon making all-natural ready-to-bake frozen pies that customers could take home and bake whenever they wanted. Sales at the restaurant eventually skyrocketed reaching 12,000 pies sold during Thanksgiving week.
In 1994, they built the current factory, where they make ready-to-bake frozen pies and have added baked cakes and tea breads to the menu (they’re all certified kosher). The pies and cakes are prepared for distribution to farm stores, gourmet shops and restaurants that sell the sweet treats under their own labels. You may have already tasted one without knowing it! It was Donna’s idea to develop the niche marketing to farms. “We want to preserve the farms,” she says. “Our farm customers are very important to us. We work with them to help them draw business.” The company also sells to fundraising groups and accepts retail orders online.
“Our operation is still old-fashioned,” Donna says. “We don’t use the big equipment.” And she’s not kidding. Although pie fillings are made in giant kettles and a commercial divider separates the dough, batches of pies are handmade by a team of four or five bakers led by executive baker and production manager Mark Reutzel, who has come up with many of the recipes. “A lot of handwork goes into making the pies,” Larry says. “We make them from scratch, just like you would, only on a bigger scale.”
A staff of four to nine bakers (the number depends on the season—fall is the busiest) can produce up to 7,500 10-inch pies a week, which are stored on site in a freezer that covers a quarter of an acre. Smaller six-inch pies are also available (and actually take longer to make than the larger ones). Crusts are made from a high-quality shortening and fruits are purchased from local farms and orchards as well as from farms around the country.
“Quality is something we care about very much,” Larry tells us. “I want it to filter down through everything we produce.”
Because quality and consistency are so important to Donna and Larry, only Northern Spy apples are used to make the apple pie, only wild Maine blueberries for the blueberry pie, and only Key limes from the Florida Keys will do for the Key lime pie. The fresh fruits are peeled, sliced and flash-frozen at their peak flavor so you can get a delicious peach or wild blueberry pie anytime of the year.
By now all this talk about pie is making us hungry. “Do you suppose we’ll get a taste?” we wonder. Larry enters with the goods—warm apple pie (by now we are salivating from the aroma alone) and a hot bumbleberry (a blend of red raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb and apple). “Well, maybe just a sliver,” I say, glancing at my friend, who also takes a small piece of each. “Oh, yumm,” we say in unison, as Donna smiles. Then Larry brings out a fresh coconut cream pie made just for us by Reutzel. It looks so fluffy and light, and after one taste—I have a new favorite flavor! Next up, Key lime. It’s sweet, tart and light.
We’re getting punchy now but Larry keeps ’em coming—“Here, you have to try the peanut-butter,” he says. I see thick peanut butter mousse atop a fudge brownie with walnuts and again look at my friend for moral support, but she caves. “Oh, you’ve gotta taste this one,” she says. “No, that’s a bit too rich for me,” I say. “Well, maybe just a bite.” And then he brings out carrot cake and cheesecake!
You can sample some pies and cakes for yourself right at the factory’s new retail shop—just in time for Thanksgiving. Take my advice: Why make it from scratch when you can simply bake it and still have it turn out soo delicious? (Call for days and hours of operation.)
As we leave, a bit pie-eyed from our visit, Larry adds, “We take pride in our pies because we realize that every single one of them is going to wind up on someone’s dining- room table for a special occasion, so they all need to be special.”
For more information, call (860) 945-9994 or visit newenglandcountrybakers.com.Love That Country Pie