Giving thanks for pie Tradition: The Baugher family has been baking pies for Thanksgiving tables since 1935. This year is no exception

the Westminster bakery has orders for about 4,000 pies.

November 26, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The woman the Baugher family calls "Grams" doesn't have to lift a finger anymore at Thanksgiving. But every year, thousands of families still top off their turkey dinner with one of her pies.

Cutting into a Baugher's pie yields a slice of life in the American tradition: a century-old family business thriving as the latest generation works in the farm and orchard operation that has grown to include a restaurant and bakery in Westminster.

"I'm thankful we have the capacity to take our fruit from the blossom to the dinner table where someone can eat it and be happy," said Allan Baugher as he sat next to his 86-year-old mother, Romaine Baugher, who started the bakery in her basement in 1935 to help her husband pay off the $5,500 farm mortgage.

Long after the mortgage was settled, she kept baking because she loved it. Along the way, she raised three of her own children and more than six foster children.

Romaine Baugher, whom customers call "Grams" or "Ma," depending on their age, retired from the bakery three years ago. These days, employees like Rose Banks and Curt and Doris Staley work with Baugher family members to carry on the tradition in its sweetest form.

They start at 4 a.m. during this, the busiest of weeks, and by this afternoon will have turned out 4,000 pies and too many dinner rolls to count.

Romaine Baugher smiles with a touch of pride at the suggestion that people who have never met her continue to lock hands and say grace over her life's work.

"Look at her hands," her son said with admiration.

Her fingers and palms are as large as a man's, but smooth as ivory. They could belong to a woman half her age and twice her size, the skin kept strong and youthful from the emollient effect of daily rubbing flour and fat into pastry crumbs.

"I don't think a freight train would pull all the stuff she's gotten together in her life," her son said.

Only a few changes have been made between what Romaine Baugher baked in her basement for five decades, and what comes from the modern bakery today.

"For us to say they haven't changed would not be the truth," said Allan Baugher, who runs the orchard and related businesses.

Romaine Baugher never kept a recipe box. She knew how much of this to use and how much of that.

Some concessions to mass production have been made, but other things have stayed the same. Machines roll out the crusts, but someone still crimps them by hand.

Frozen egg whites with stabilizer are used for the meringue, but a 70-something grandmother (a description that fits most of the eight bakery employees) spreads the whipping with a rubber spatula.

As a reluctant concession to a health-conscious time, vegetable shortening replaced the lard Romaine Baugher had always used to make her crisp, long-flake crust.

Baugher's is as close as it gets to making a pie in your own kitchen, said Nancy Cohen, owner of Eddie's markets on Roland Avenue and North Charles Street in Baltimore. She had 541 orders this year.

"I remember the pies from the early '80s and '70s," said Cohen. "I remember going out bicycling in Westminster and deciding I deserved a piece of pie."

At the time, pie was available by the slice only through the restaurant.

Even then, Romaine Baugher was hand-rolling crust in her basement to make 300 to 400 pies for a busy weekend, sometimes recruiting neighbors and family to cap strawberries or peel peaches for the fillings.

When the bakery moved in 1981 to large new quarters near the farm warehouse, Cohen started ordering pies for her store.

"At that time, it was difficult to find a full complement of pies that tasted homemade, and there was this personality attached to it -- a local farming family operating a small restaurant," Cohen said. "There was an amazing number of people [in Baltimore] who had heard of Baugher's pie in Westminster."

Baugher's makes just about any pie you can imagine -- 31 kinds -- with fillings from their own trees and berry patches.

A sugarless apple is offered for diabetics. The sugar-charged pecan is just the antidote for a soporific turkey-and-stuffing dinner.

The pie operation grew out of the orchard, Allan Baugher said. It was a way for his mother to use the extra fruit and earn money. She had been baking since she was a teen-ager, when she rolled out hearty pastries to feed her father's farmhands.

"She always started before I got up," said Allan. "And she always baked in a real hot oven to get done fast. The filling would boil over and there would be a lot of smoke. You could smell those pies from the basement up to the attic."

Romaine Baugher will be the first to acknowledge that nothing beats a hand-rolled, homemade pie, and the satisfaction of producing it from start to finish. But that's when everything turns out right, and thousands of people today would just as soon do without the anxiety.

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