(Part I of this story)
Sr. Margaret is a thousand percent serious when she says, “pie cutting itself is an art.” The cutting is done in the “cutting room” atop the hill from where the pies were made (or unloaded). The cutting room is actually just a classroom, albeit a scrubbed-down version. (We’re talking eat-off-the-floor sanitized.) The sisters let out a laugh when asked what the cutting room is, realizing they have created their own nomenclature for the event and their environs. For instance, much of the equipment needed for the barbecue is stored in “holy land,” which is the storage facility that also houses a lot of religious statues from SND schools and convents.
Signs are stored in the “furniture barn” which, back in the day, was used for pigs, cows and horses. (Boy, do the sisters have some stories about holy land and the furniture barn, but those will have to wait for another day.) Unfortunately for the sisters, other equipment—like the yellow stanchions hand-crafted from painted wood and tape—are kept on the fifth floor of the retreat house, formerly the boarding school.
“We have to walk up and down five flights of stairs with all this stuff,” Sr. Margaret repeats, in case anyone missed her point. No. It’s pretty hard to miss the sheer numbers of sisters (and these are no longer the postulant variety) and volunteers running around the campus during those last few weeks of September.
But, back to pies.
When the sisters did the baking from scratch, they’d gather apples from the SND orchards on Green and Chardon Auburn roads and make half the pies during the weeks of Lent. Then, they’d make another 500-600 before each of the two barbecue Sundays, typically about 2,500 each year. The sisters worked in assembly line fashion—rolling, coring, grinding, and filling pie shells. There were typically about 35 shifts of 15 sisters lined up in the hallway watching the ovens. Pies had to be baked to the precise doneness. “You don’t want them too brown, and you don’t want them underdone,” Sr. Margaret stresses with a smile.
And in case you were wondering, every single homemade pie always went to the barbecue. Well, except that one year when a rack with 48 pies fell over, Sr. Antonee recalls with a wry grin. “That year we got to eat some pie.” The co-conspirators giggle, enjoying the reminiscing, as all barbecue participants do. When the decision was made to start buying the pie from a vendor, the sisters did not relinquish responsibility. Lots of pie tasting was done and is still done on a biannual basis—it’s all part of the job. “One year we tried strudel,” remembers Sr. Margaret. But that didn’t go over well. “We buy our pies locally and try to get as close as we can to the homemade pies we used to make. ”Then, dropping her shoulders and letting out a sigh, she confides, “It’s a relief.”
Tomorrow finishes with Part III – From Ham to Chicken and Boutique!