Perfect pies take practice, but it's an art worth mastering
BY SCOTT CHERRY World Scene Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2012
11/08/12 at 3:41 AM
OKMULGEE - Alice Holleman remembers when the pie-making baton was passed from her mother to her at Coleman's Drive-In in Okmulgee.
"I had stood by my grandma and my mom for years learning to make pies, and one day Mom told me it was time for me to take over," Holleman said. "She said not to tell anyone, though, so it wouldn't upset any of the customers. She said just do it like she did and no one would notice.
"Well, what happened was that she kept getting compliments on how good the pies were, so I figured it was time I started getting some of the credit, too."
The pie-making tradition at Coleman's started in the mid-1950s when Alice's grandmother, Myra Coleman, started making pies at home and taking them to the drive-in, located on Wood Drive (U.S. 75) for nearly half a century.
Eventually, Holleman's uncle, Marvin Coleman, then her mother, Lou Ella Good, took over pie-making duties.
The drive-in, well-known for its big hamburgers and fabulous onion rings, was sold in 2001. Holleman kept baking pies while the family rode out a five-year noncompetitive agreement to not sell hamburgers.
In 2006, the family opened Coleman's Bakery with a full menu in downtown Okmulgee. Holleman and husband Randy had reacquired space that once held a family bakery, People's Bakery, opened by Holleman's grandfather in 1939.
Holleman figures she has made about 25,000 pies during the holidays alone in her 26 years of piemaking.
"We do more than 1,000 every holiday season, and people come from all over to buy our pies," she said.
Holleman thinks pie-making from scratch is possibly a lost art.
"I see some younger people wanting to learn, but I think the majority of people don't want to make the effort," Holleman said. "I think a lot of people are intimidated about making the pie dough, so they are hesitant right off the bat. "
Alan Fusco of Blue Moon Bakery and Michael Minden of Michael V's restaurant, both expert pie-makers, agree with Holleman that fewer and fewer people are making the effort to bake pies from scratch.
"The whole food trend has people cooking again, but I don't think pies are at the forefront of what people want to do," Fusco said. "... Overall I think baking, and baking pies in particular, is a dying art.
"I see baking pies as kind of a farmhouse thing. Most people remember when their grandmother or mother used to throw stuff together and bake off some pies. You look at old holiday pictures, and there's always a couple of pies on the table."
Fusco ran the now-closed Tippin's Restaurant and Pie Pantry in Tulsa for 16 years.
"Pie-making is in my DNA," he said. "I've heard the old Tippin's oven still is in that building. It had 10 shelves and would hold 90 pies. It was a behemoth oven and baked the most beautiful pies. We would run that oven around the clock beginning the week before Thanksgiving.
"I daydream about finding a way to get that thing, but it probably would cost a fortune to move it somewhere."
Minden is best-known for his coconut cream pie, a year-round best-seller.
"I think people believe that a pie like coconut cream is hard to make, and there is an art to it since you are dealing with a pastry cream," he said. "But it really wouldn't be that hard to learn if you have the desire. The thing is, I do think people are getting away from cooking at home altogether, not just holiday pies. We cut off our Thanksgiving buffet at Michael V's at 350 people last year and sold out in eight days. I don't think you would see those kinds of numbers 20 or 30 years ago.
"What makes me go crazy is when grocery stores use $2.99 or $3.99 pies ... to get people in the store when what we make or what you can make at home with just a little effort is so much better."
As Holleman was whipping out a pecan pie recently at Coleman's, she was getting plenty of legwork help from grandchildren, daughter Katy and sons Ben and Randy. She said she is pretty sure who will be next in line to carry on the tradition.
"Randy has his degree from OSU, but I still think he will be the next pie-maker here," Holleman said. "All he has to do is watch me and do it like I do."
Primer for pie-making
Alice Holleman of Coleman's Bakery in Okmulgee said she likes to start off novice pie-makers with a pecan pie.
"The recipes for pecan pies are all basically the same, and you can have success with your first pies," she said.
She said when she is making just one or two pies at home, she uses a tried-and-true pie crust recipe "from a really old Fannie Farmer cookbook."
When the dough is ready, she sprinkles flour on a bread board and moves it around with a long, wooden rolling pin, picking up some of the flour on the pin.
Then she rolls out the dough evenly - a little larger than the 9-inch pie pan - places it in the pan, pats it down and crimps the edges.
She said she always freezes a deep-dish pie crust, such as what she uses for pumpkin pie, before baking "so the sides won't fall down when you bake the pie." She said it's OK to make pie crusts for cream pies ahead of time and freeze them, as well.
When making a pecan pie, Holleman said she prefers clear syrup (such as clear Karo) over dark and she uses "just a little more" than the recipe calls for.
Most recipes call for mixing the pecans into the filling mixture, but Holleman puts the pecans in the pie shell first, pours the filling mixture over them and lets the pecans rise to the top.
"That's all there is to it," she said. "It just takes a little practice to be consistent."
Where to buy holiday pies
The following area restaurants and bakeries are among places to order holiday pies. Most are taking orders now.
7 N. Harvard Ave.
Antoinette Baking Co.
3305 S. Peoria Ave.
Blue Moon Bakery
3512 S. Peoria Ave.
6231 E. 61st St.
118 N. Seminole Ave., Okmulgee
227 W. Rogers Blvd., Skiatook
3202 E. 15th St.
2832 E. 101st St.
4930 W. Kenosha St., Broken Arrow
8313 S. Memorial Drive
Ol Dutchman's Bakery
18435 S. Highway 66, Claremore
2604 N. Aspen Ave., Broken Arrow
121 E. Second St., Sand Springs
FANNIE FARMER PIE CRUST
Makes one 9-inch pie shell
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons of ice-cold water
1. Gradually blend flour and salt with the shortening.
2. Sprinkle the ice-cold water onto the dough a little at a time and blend well.
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 cup clear syrup (like Karo light corn syrup)
1 cup pecans
1 9-inch pie crust, unbaked
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix eggs, salt, vanilla, sugar and syrup together.
3. Pour pecans into unbaked pie shell; pour mixture over pecans.
4. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes; check after 30 minutes and if crust is getting too brown, cover edges with aluminum foil. When done, the pie will be a little loose in the center but will set as it cools.
Original Print Headline: Easy As Pie
Scott Cherry 918-581-8463
The owner of Coleman's Bakery, Alice Holleman, prepares a pecan pie at her bakery in Okmulgee. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
A pecan pie from Coleman's Bakery. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Pumpkin pie from Blue Moon Bakery CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Local expert pie-makers agree, fewer people are making the effort to bake pies from scratch. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
A pastry crust is ready to be filled at Coleman's Bakery in Okmulgee. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World