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Around The Grange
RI Granges celebrate National Pie Day
 

By Arline A. Fleming, Valley Breeze, Rhode Isalnd (1/24/12)

  JANUARY 24, 2012 --

Long before there was a Food Network to demonstrate the fine points of baking a pie, and long before there was an Internet to announce National Pie Day to warm up winter, pie-making was a kitchen craft to share, to pass down to offspring, to serve to company, to compete with at a county fair.

In Rhode Island, the humble, homemade pie is being celebrated at various Grange meetings during these winter weeks. Pumpkin, apple, coconut custard, chocolate cream - they are all being tasted and judged at the Grange meetings held closest to National Pie Day, which was Jan. 23.

"Who doesn't like pie?" asked Carol Gafford, creator of the statewide event and Rhode Island State Grange Agriculture chairwoman.

Gafford said many of Rhode Island's 20 community Granges were making plans to take part on the local level, competing among themselves for the fun and the taste of it, while championing local foods. One of the contest rules stipulates that at least one ingredient should be a local food product, be it milk or eggs, apples or peaches.

At the Chepachet Grange Number 38, located at 28 Chopmist Hill Road, Glocester, members said yes indeed to scheduling a pie night. They did it last year, too, hosting an event that turns out to be a win-win for all because even those who don't place first, second or third get to taste the offerings.

This year's first-place winner was last year's second-place winner, a member who has been baking pies for some six decades. Marge Casbarro, 82, of Glocester, came in first with her strawberry cream pie with butter crust.

She not only has been baking pies since her girlhood, she has been making them from the very same street off Snake Hill Road where her mother showed her how to roll out the crust. She has been baking pies since the days when she first went to a Chepachet Grange meeting with her parents in the 1930s. In other words, she knows her pies, yet recently said after taking first place:

"I didn't expect to win. All the pies were good."

"There was just something about that pie," said contest judge Pam Arsoniadis, owner of the Gentleman Farmer Restaurant in Chepachet. "The strawberry pie was perfect," she said, noting her pleasure in having the juicy summer fruit on a cold winter night.

"I've been making pies for a long time," Casbarro says, seeming to equate accumulated time to prize-winning pie talents. Though she won with her strawberry pie this year, and placed second with her velvety chocolate cream pie last year, she practiced with her signature apple pie recently to prepare for the contest.

But she admitted to having had trouble making the pie crust when she was a young bride baking for her new husband.

"But I didn't give up. I kept trying."

"I used to use lard, but I got away from that and use Crisco," she said. "It always comes out good."

Sometimes she uses a mixture that includes butter, which is how she made the award-winning strawberry pie crust.

Add that to the flour, ice water, and a dash of salt, and that's her recipe. It sounds simple, but as she points out, "You've got to get the right water or milk or whatever you use."

She apparently got it right at the Chepachet Grange contest, beating out second-place winner Marie A. Robidoux with her coconut cream pie and Gilda Desormier with her apple pie, who placed third.

"They were all good, but one had to be number one," noted judge Arsoniadis.

When state agriculture director Gafford, of Warren, a librarian, stumbled upon an article about National Pie Day several years ago, she decided, she said, that it would not only be a fun activity, but also a way to promote local products by requiring the pie bakers to use a Rhode Island ingredient.

"I wanted to make people aware of local ingredients, and there are a lot in Rhode Island that can be used," she said, having been a judge recently at the Ashaway Grange where the winning key lime pie used Rhode Island milk, and a winning lemon meringue pie used local eggs.

Some local Granges are still planning their pie nights, she said.

"This year we are also doing a pie recipe swap so that people who cannot bake a pie can at least bring in a recipe and trade with others," Gafford said. She hopes to put together a little booklet of the pie recipes and hand them out to participating Granges, such as Chepachet Grange, one of northern Rhode Island's largest and most active granges and one which was recently selected as one of 16 Granges from across the country as a "Distinguished" Grange.

The award is given to Granges that meet certain requirements regarding membership, participation in state and national conferences, hosting youth activities and legislative events, as well as other grange functions. State Grange Master Stephen Logan of West Kingston said he was "extremely proud and privileged to accept this award on their behalf during our National Convention in Tulsa, Okla. All of the Granges in Rhode Island are extremely proud of Chepachet for being one of the 16 Community Granges in the nation to receive this award."

"It was an honor," said Chepachet Grange Master Dennis Robidoux, of Glocester, about accepting the award. Robidoux also gladly suggested that his Grangers take part in the pie contest, encouraging longtime members like Casbarro to dust off their rolling pins. Casbarro didn't hesitate for a second, pulling out her stack of well used recipe cards, many with stories attached.

She told how in summer she makes blueberry pie and key lime with recipes that don't have to be baked, keeping the kitchen from heating up. And she told how her own mother, Beatrice Beebe, made her own mincemeat for mincemeat pie, but Casbarro said that's something she doesn't do.

"When I feel like mincemeat pie, I buy a frozen one," she admits.

Casbarro is on the executive committee of the Chepachet Grange, and still works one or two days a week in a local office in addition to her baking and cooking hobby.

The dedicated member said she enjoys what the Grange has to offer, the people, the activities, and "the good refreshments," such as the samples of eight different pies that were sliced up after the recent contest.

Said Casbarro: "They were all so good"

 
 
 
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