Celebrating the ‘all-American’ treat with the makers of some of our region’s best slices

2014-07-04T00:15:00Z 2014-07-07T06:14:23Z Celebrating the ‘all-American’ treat with the makers of some of our region’s best slicesBy JACI WEBB jwebb@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Apple pie is considered as American as hot dogs and baseball on the Fourth of July.

But the first pies were baked by the Egyptians around 9,000 B.C. Ancient Greeks were big on pies, too, and they came up with idea of making a pastry filled with fruit.

Americans were the first to throw pies, though, starting with the 1909 film “Mr. Flip” when actor Ben Turpin got the first public pie in the face.

Nostalgic pies

There is a nostalgia associated with pies that you don’t find with cakes and cookies. Colette Decker, owner of Emma’s Baking Co. and Deli in Laurel, said it takes planning to bake a pie.

“People loved it when their grandmothers and aunts made pies,” Decker said. “Not many people make pies anymore because it takes time. It’s not just open the box and throw it in the oven.”

Decker said costumer favorites include her strawberry rhubarb pie and banana cream pie. Many of the pie recipes came from the old Bridger Café, which is now closed.

Mark Day is the temporary pie baker at the Red Lodge Café on Red Lodge’s main street. His regular pastry chef is in her eighties and has been out with a bad knee.

Doris Day pies

Day uses recipes handed down from his mother, Doris, who just passed away this spring. A customer favorite is the sour cream rhubarb.

“We have a couple of locals who bring me their rhubarb all summer. They know that if they bring in rhubarb, they get a piece of my pie for free.”

Day said there isn’t much of a trick to mimicking his mom’s pies. He uses lots of lard, starts baking the pie at a high temperature of 400 degrees, then finishes it at 325 degrees.

“On the top, I put the butter and brown sugar during the last few minutes of baking to give it a nice crunchy sweet topping. Otherwise, it’s just rhubarb, sour cream and sugar,” Day said.

The Red Lodge Café has been a mainstay in downtown Red Lodge since the early 1900s, when Charlie Stevens opened it. You can’t miss the flashing red neon tepee out front, and inside the walls are filled with mountain scenes, painted in the 1960s by O.J. Sailo.

After Doris Day purchased the café in 1974 with her husband, Red Lodge kids would line up at the door to meet who they thought was the actress Doris Day, Mark said.

Patriotic cheesecake pie

In Billings, people rave about the pies at the Red Rooster Café, 1500 Broadwater Ave. Owner Misty Miller said the customer favorites are the sour cream raison pie, the cherry pie, and the strawberry rhubarb. She knows she’s one of the few cafés around that sells the old-fashioned sour cream raison. Sometimes customers come in just for a slice of pie.

“We have a couple who come in every Friday. It’s their pie date and they meet up here just for pie,” Miller said.

For the Fourth of July and throughout the summer, Miller is introducing the “patriotic cheesecake pie.”

“It’s red, white and blue. We use a regular flour crust on it, not the graham cracker crust. The red is made with strawberries and raspberry gelatin, then there is a cheesecake layer and the bottom is blueberries.”

Another popular spot for pie in Billings is Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery, 2525 First Ave. N.

A trick to crusts

Stella Ziegler has been making pies since she was a girl. Her trick to keep the crust flaky and moist is to add lemon and an egg instead of just water. Ziegler and her helpers will roll out 50 pie crusts at a time, more during the holidays. Her pies taste so good, people want to claim them as their own.

“I’ve even had people come in with their pie pan and have me make a pie in there so their guests thought it was homemade,” Ziegler said.

The café features apple, cherry, peach and blueberry every day. On occasion they’ll also offer a bumble berry, which is blueberry, blackberry and raspberry or a lemon meringue.

Most of her pies have turned out just fine, but when she was a young homemaker living in California, Ziegler said she tried to make a deep-dish boysenberry pie without a recipe.

“I made it way too full and it boiled over. The juice boiled out of the oven and came out the doors onto the floor. I never throw anything away so I took out half the filling and turned it into a cobbler.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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