Thanksgiving in 14 flavors

Pies: Wilson's Farm Market in Bel Air usually focuses on flowers and peaches but sees a rush on baked goods during the holidays.

November 27, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

Greg Wilson won't serve pumpkin, or any type of pie, at his Thanksgiving table. After baking and selling between 1,200 and 1,400 pies this week at his farm stand, Wilson's Farm Market on Conowingo Road in Bel Air, he will be looking forward to a slice of cake.

"I prefer cake - a chocolate cake with vanilla icing - something a little different," said Wilson, who has been baking pies at his store for the past 17 years.

Wilson has owned the farm stand since 1980, and Jeanelle Vane, his companion, joined him in 1988. Baked goods usually take a back seat to their peaches and flowers - except during the holiday season, when they are bombarded with requests for pies.

Customers begin placing Thanksgiving pie orders in September, but most requests come in late November, says Wilson, who tries to accommodate every one. According to Wilson - who calls the Dutch apple, an apple pie with a crumb top, his favorite - pumpkin is by far the most popular pie for Thanksgiving, followed by apple. Chocolate cream comes in third.

The source of this tasty assortment: a pair of convection ovens in the back of the store. Each can hold 20 pies.

Vane, her cheeks flushed from the oven heat, peeked in on some apple pies Monday afternoon.

"You have to turn them around in the oven, or else they brown unevenly," she said.

For Wilson and Vane, the hard work began Tuesday. Because they want every pie to be fresh for their customers, they delay baking as long as possible. That means long hours as they face the holiday rush - they planned to work 18-hour days this week to fill every order while maintaining a selection of their 14 varieties for walk-in customers.

"We'll be working here around the clock. The ovens might just be off between 2 and 5 in the morning," Wilson said.

Once the pies are made, they cool on large racks taped with "Do Not Touch" signs, then are put in boxes. Because there is little storage space in the old stone building, the boxes are placed in large stacks in alphabetical order in the front of the store.

"There are nothing but pie boxes in here on Wednesday," Wilson said. "We actually have to tear down some of our displays to make space for our pies."

Jeen Greig, who lives in Hickory, was in Wilson's Farm Market on Monday afternoon ordering her Thanksgiving pies.

"I'm going to get an apple pie, a pumpkin pie and something else," she said, eyeing the small glass case where several pies are displayed. "I just had the apple walnut caramel pie, and it was delicious. My husband is a big fan of the Boston cream."

Greig said she has bought pies - which cost $6.99 to $8.99 - from Wilson's for several years. This year she is bringing them to her mother's house for the holiday.

"I used to make them myself, but these taste better and it's faster," she said.

Although most of the market's customers are local, like Greig, Vane said people from Philadelphia to Washington, especially visitors passing through Maryland during the holiday, come to them for pies around Thanksgiving.

Vane will be able to rest about 11 a.m. today, when Wilson's closes for Thanksgiving.

"We're just praying that the oven doesn't break down," she said. She had prepared another batch of pies to go in the oven as soon as the ones baking - pumpkin pies beginning to turn golden brown - were done.

Like Wilson, she doesn't plan on eating any of the pies today.

"Give me cake or banana pudding," she said, "but not pie."

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