The center’s Chef John will be offering 47 different pies for the holiday.
Things are sometimes said to be “as American as apple pie.” But while America and apple pie may go together, according to the American Pie Council, pies have been in existence since the time of the ancient Egyptians.
The Romans were allegedly famous for their rye-crusted and goat cheese pie. Many of these creations of antiquity were the savory sort and had more crust than filling. Legend has it, the crust, or “coffyn,” would be stuffed with fowl and the legs hung over the side of the dish as handles.
Fortunately, pies made their way across the Atlantic Ocean and have evolved into the edible creations Americans love to bake, buy and eat year-round. In fact, the American Pie Council reports that 35 percent of Americans say they’ve had pies for breakfast, 66 percent for lunch and 59 percent for midnight snack.
This year, the Gendron Franco Center and its head chef John Pulsifer are joining the pie madness, with their first “Holiday Pie Event.”
“Chef John,” as Pulsifer is known to friends and guests at the Gendron Franco Center, has been working in the L/A restaurant business for the last 50 years or so. He grew up in Mechanic Falls, graduated from Edward Little and studied culinary arts at what was then known as CMVTI (Central Maine Vocational Technical Institute, now Central Maine Community College).
“I started doing dishes at the original Eddie’s Diner or the Village (Restaurant) on High Street in Auburn. I was there for two – three years, then I moved up to short-order cook.” During culinary school, “I decorated cakes at Eith’s Bakery (in Auburn).”
He continued, “I intended to be a baker, but that was about the time the baking industry in the restaurant business went pretty much belly up and (restaurant) bakers started disappearing.”
A twist of fate in Pulsifer’s cooking career came in 1972 when he was hired at Camp Fernwood Summer Camp for Girls on Lake Thompson in Poland.
“I went there as a baker,” Pulsifer said. “I was only supposed to be there for three weeks. My predecessor had surgery that spring and was going to be late for camp. In the three weeks, we lost three chefs. They offered the head chef job to me.”
Although Pulsifer declined the head chef’s job at that time, he worked at Camp Fernwood through that summer of 1972. He continued working there each summer and, in 1982, he became the camp’s head chef.
This last summer, he had a kitchen staff of 14, making 1,200 meals a day, and making as much of their food from scratch as they can, including baking. He noted that “very few camps bother doing it themselves anymore.”
He’s seen food trends and concerns come and go. “For years, it was vegetarian cooking. . . . Now everyone is on gluten-free diets or they’re vegans.”
Since 1972, he’s planned his life around those 47 days at Camp Fernwood.
“Over the years I’ve owned two or three restaurants and I finagled my schedule to work around the camp schedule,” he said. He owned Red’s Pizza in Mechanic Falls; his last restaurant was Eggs-cetera in Poland. He’s also taught culinary arts at Central Maine Community College.
CMCC used to host a Thanksgiving pie sale, and Pulsifer mentioned the idea of recreating the event to a group of Gendron Franco Center patrons. He then mentioned it to Executive Director Mitch Thomas.
“I liked the idea when he mentioned it,” Thomas said, and agreed to test the idea out for this holiday season. Thomas said all the pies are made from scratch in a homemade style, and if a buyer asked him, “John will swear you baked it yourself.”
The crust is, according to Pulsifer, a standard “from scratch” crust made with vegetable shortening, flour, salt and butter. The fillings are made from scratch too, using fresh frozen fruit for things like the Forest Fruit pie (apple, rhubarb, blueberry and raspberry).
Pulsifer thinks the savory pies will be big sellers. Fresh salmon is on the menu and Pulsifer is adamant “it’s not coming out of a can.” The pork pie, tourtiere, is his grandmother’s recipe with a few modifications. He said her recipe started out with “spices and pork . . . four to five potatoes and a sleeve of saltine crackers to absorb the pork fat. But ground pork in the ’40s and ’50s was a lot different than the pork today. It’s tough to find even ground pork that has any fat in it. Pork being the other white meat, they’ve bred all the fat out of it,” he said.
The Gendron Franco Center is now taking orders either in person, by phone or via the center’s Facebook page. Chef John is offering 45 different sweet pies and two savory pies. They’re 10-inch deep-dish pies, made to order.
This year’s Christmas pie is as American as . . . the Franco Center!
Julie-Ann Baumer writes, cooks, and gardens from her home in Lisbon Falls. She does not make pie. Read her blog www.julieannbaumer.com or follow her on twitter @auntotomato.
Maple, pecan and sweet potato pies made by Chef John Pulsifer at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
The Gendron Franco Center
46 Cedar St., Lewiston
47 pies to choose from
Fruit pies – $14
Apple caramel walnut
Mince (apple raisin)
Fruit pies – $16
Rustic colonial apple
Forest fruit (apple, rhubarb, blueberry, raspberry)
Mixed 4-berry (blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry)
Fruit pies may be made with Splenda instead of sugar.
Soft filling pies – $12
Pineapple cream cheese
Chocolate peanut butter
Vanilla graham cracker meringue
Soft filling pies – $16
Maple sweet potato pecan
Cream pies – $14
Fresh red salmon, $16
Tourtiere (French pork pie) $14
Gluten-free crusts available on all pies for an additional $5 per pie.
John Pulsifer pulls two peach/raspberry pies out of the oven at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
A peach/raspberry pie baked by John Pulsifer. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
John Pulsifer made 60 pies to raise money for the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)