Judith Ogden Larsen’s pie shop had a beginning as humble as gooseberry pie. She spread a quilt on the tailgate of her pickup truck and sold made-from-scratch pies to travelers along Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. Between customers, she played her fiddle. “A hunter bought a blackberry pie from me and later called from Washington, D.C., and asked if I could send him a pie,” Larsen says. Then another happy pie customer called, then another. That sellout day in November 2002 gave Larsen the nudge she needed to open The Village Pie Maker. “I felt in my heart that this would work,” says Larsen.
While she lacked business know-how, she did know how to roll out a perfect pie crust and pack it with nearly 2 1/2 pounds of fresh raspberries or cherries or apple slices—“no canned stuff” is the company’s motto. She had learned to crimp and primp a pie crust—lightly brushing milk and sprinkling sugar on top—at age 10 under the guidance of her grandmother Gladys Karre. At first, Larsen transformed a bedroom of her home into a commercial kitchen. Freezers and mountains of flour and sugar quickly took over. Likewise, pie orders from grocery stores and coffee shops outgrew her 70-pie capacity Ford Escort.
Larsen moved The Village Pie Maker into a quaint 1920’s brick creamery building in Eustis, Neb., where six employees today turn out as many as 600 fruit pies a day—every single one by hand and plump with real fresh or frozen fruit. She delivers the frozen “take and bakes” by van to 175 commercial outlets across Nebraska and parts of Colorado and Kansas. As she knew in her heart, “the pies sell themselves.”
Older customers, like Mae Grell of Louisville, Neb., love the homemade goodness and old-fashioned varieties, such as strawberry-rhubarb, boysenberry and walnut-molasses. “I’ve made pies all my life and I’m 72, but no more since I found her,” says Grell. Although Larsen’s days begin at 4 a.m. and rarely leave time for playing the fiddle, she’s living the pie-in-the-sky life she imagined. “I am so honored when these older women write and tell me that this is a dying art,” says Larsen. “Imagine, being thanked for baking a pie.”
By Marti Attoun, a writer in Joplin, Mo.