Pie in the endless sky

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Where the heck is Pie Town, N.M.?

This slogan adorns the occasional bumper sticker, advertising the oddly-named village’s existence. It’s 84 miles west of Socorro and is home to 283 persons. On the second Saturday of September, that number swells as people from Catron County and parts outlying flock to Pie Town for the annual Pie Town Pie Festival.

This festival has been going on for 32 years, according to Pie-O-Neer cafe owner Kathy Knapp, but it’s actually a continuation of an old tradition in the area. Homesteaders would come together around the time of the first frost, bringing their vegetables for a day of canning, baking, drying and eating.

“(It was) a huge, all-day feast in the park across the street (from the Pie-O-Neer),” Knapp said. “And then, of course, (there’s) a little libation, a little music, and then they’d party all night. And we do much the same thing. It’s a fall feast.”

It’s not just a feast, though. This year, under a cold, grey sky, the park swelled with artists, artisans, craftspeople and creators.

FireWise Educates

One of the more noticeable attractions during the day was the FireWise trailer. Operator George Barreras’ goal is “to educate the public on how to properly maintain their home site, their property, to ensure that they are safe during an encroaching fire.”

Inside, Barreras had a sand model of the region onto which he projected an interactive map. The whole setup simulated the spread of a fire in the region based on wind direction, origin and countermeasures taken. And it’s simple enough that children can understand it.

“I like to get the kids involved, because the sooner you get them involved, even if it’s touching this laser here and actually starting the fire, it gets that thought process going,” Barreras said.

Through FireWise, Barreras services all of Catron County, providing educational services, chipping and disposal of dead and dry pine needles, leaves and grasses. Barreras has been involved for a little over a year.

“They made a believer out of me when I saw a million-dollar home built 10 miles west of Luna, New Mexico,” Barreras said. “It’s a million-dollar home, but (the owner) built it fire wise. He built it out of stone, he built it with a metal roof, (the property is) about 50 acres and he cleared out a 50-foot defensible space around his home. The tree separation was 10 to 15 feet – everything was beautiful. The center of that wall of fire came blowing in right through his front yard, but when it got to his yard, he had that defensible space, the fire dropped down to the ground, burned the grass around his property, got up in the trees and continued. (It) never scorched his house.”

Local Fiction

The festival is also a showcase of local colors and flavors. Some tents sell cheeses, some sell hats, but one eye-catching stall was selling books. More specifically, the western-classy woman behind the table was selling a novel titled “Pie Town.” Novelist Lynne Hinton and her husband, Bob, originally from North Carolina, came through Pie Town some years ago.

“Back in the 90s, we drove through Pie Town and were kind of surprised,” Bob said. “At that time, we could not find a piece of pie at any of the restaurants. We thought, ‘Well how strange.’”

That strange little village named for an absent dessert stuck in their heads. In 2003, the Hintons moved to Albuquerque, where they reside today. Three years ago, Lynne wrote “Pie Town,” which is set in a fictionalized version of the village. Since, she has written a sequel, titled “Welcome Back to Pie Town.” Both are pure feel-good Americana, exactly what Lynne sought.

Lynne was nervous about the locals’ reaction to her fictionalized town when she set up at last year’s Pie Festival.

“I was afraid they would say, ‘Who do you think you are?’ But that was not the experience at all,” Lynne said. “They were all very kind, generous, lovely people.”

Piece of Mind

The Pie Festival’s main draw, though, is the pie – people eating pie, people making pie, people selling pie, people buying pie. And oh do those pies move.

Across from the park is the Pie-O-Neer cafe, owned and operated by Kathy Knapp. Knapp came through Pie Town in 1995 with her mother, Mary, and her daughter, Wendi. They, like the Hintons, discovered that they couldn’t buy a slice anywhere in town. That settled it – the three set up shop and started baking and selling pies. Today, Mary and Wendi have moved on, but Kathy remains.

Once a year, the Pie Festival rolls along and becomes their biggest sales day. And it takes a lot of preparation to have enough pie for their hungry customers.

“We have been prepping for weeks,” Knapp said. “There’s no way you can do this in one day – over 100 pies – without starting mid-July. (You have to get) pie crusts made and put in freezers. You have to get all your fruit prepped, put in freezers. You have to beg all your friends to commit to being here this day to help you. If you don’t start a couple months out, you cannot produce this kind of pie in one day.”

By 11 a.m., the cafe was crowded, and Knapp and her friends were working at pace for hours. But it’s rewarding.

“We’re all very tired and very happy, and it’s been very successful,” Knapp said.