Calculating pie in the Upper Valley: We sampled as many as we could

  • An editor helps himself to apple pie from Grazi's in Newport, N.H., on Dec. 12, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lou's multi-berry pie. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Blueberry Pie from The Fort at the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lou's cherry pie (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Apple pie from the Woodstock Farmers Market, tasted by Valley News staffers in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 25, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Strawberry rhubarb pie from the Woodstock Farmers Market, tasted by Valley News staffers in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 25, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Apple Crumb pie from Umpleby's in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 12, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pecan pie from Lou's Restaurant and Bakery, Monday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lou's very berry pie (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lou's chocolate cream pie. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alex Hanson cuts a slice of blueberry apple pie from Piecemeal Pies for the Valley News pie tasting in West Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lou's chocolate cream pie. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Published: 3/12/2019 9:14:55 PM

Last winter, in the interest of science, we here in the newsroom decided to seek out as many doughnuts as we could and write about them. We sampled and took notes and produced a reasonably thorough accounting of the local doughnut landscape.

So in December, we talked about what kind of comestible would enable us to snack our way through winter, while simultaneously serving readers. The answer seemed obvious:

Pie. What other treat is as common as doughnuts and has the same sort of homespun charm?

Would that it were so simple.

The appeal of the doughnut is uncomplicated, the flour and fat equivalent of a cute, fluffy kitten. “Yay, doughnuts!”

Pies are more challenging, less kitten than full-grown, finicky housecat. There’s more personality in pie, and that made it tougher on us from the get-go.

We struggled even to decide what kinds of pies we would sample. Fruit pies, obviously. But cream pies? Meat pies? Hand pies? Did someone ask whether a quiche is a pie? Yes, someone did. (Answer: no.) For the most part, we stuck to fruit pies, but some other flavors snuck their way in.

Worse still, people have opinions about pies and how they should be made, so where an order of doughnuts would send us all into rapturous praise, a pie yielded a lot of cranky opinions about crust, spicing, texture and any other of the many ways in which a pie can go awry. Maybe the novelty of our doughnut project had worn off, or maybe the added complexity of arranging for plates and forks took the fun out of it.

Whatever the reason, this effort feels less like a qualified success than like a noble failure. (Although any endeavor that results in journalists eating pie together sounds like a win, at least to us.) We strove to pick up pies from as many places as possible, but we didn’t get through our own list. If you read this story and cry out, “How can anyone write about pie in the Upper Valley and leave out P&H Truck Stop!” we can only say, “You’re right.” We imposed a Pi Day deadline for the story to appear in print (that’s 3.14 to all you non-math nerds out there), so we kind of ran out of time.

As with the doughnuts, we set a notebook next to each pie bearing the admonition, “You bite, you write,” and this is what we came up with:

Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, Hanover

We ate a lot of pies from Lou’s, in part because one of us commutes through Hanover every morning and it was a convenient place to pick up a pie. They’re also pretty great. The pecan pie was a favorite. One commenter just wrote, “Mother. Of. God ...” Reviews of the “Very Berry” and “Multi-Berry” pies were more mixed, with some complaining about being able to taste the thickeners in the filling while others complained that the “Multi-Berry” crust was too thick and therefore not sufficiently cooked. One person wrote “it’s perfect,” though, so we’ll throw in a “de gustibus non disputandum est” for all you Latin scholars.

We also tried a cherry pie and a chocolate cream pie from Lou’s. The former was considered one of the best we sampled, with the tart flavor of the cherries coming through and the crust a perfect lattice. And some people liked the chocolate cream, with one calling the graham cracker crust “divine,” though another declined even to consider it pie, calling it “goop in a crust.”

See, pie can make people crabby. Who knew?

King Arthur Flour, Norwich

We had high expectations for King Arthur’s pies and they didn’t disappoint, though they did surprise us a little. The crusts of the apple and mixed-berry pies we ordered were lighter and flakier than any of the others we encountered. Some people loved the crust, praising it for its flavor, while others found it a bit insubstantial. Some of us were a bit thrown by the top crust on the berry pie: There was none. But it was more a rustic pie, with the crust edges folded over slightly. People complained that the apples were “mushy,” but loved that the fruit flavors came through without being overly spiced. Picky, picky, picky. Timing was on the side of these pies: We ate them on a Friday afternoon as a snowstorm was rolling in. “The perfect pre-Nor’easter snack,” one taster wrote.

Umpleby’s Bakery and Cafe, Hanover

The apple crumb pie from Umpleby’s, the most British of the UV’s bake shops, left people wanting more, in a good way. The crust seemed too thick to some, while the crumb topping was tasty but too thin. One commenter praised it as a “rugged pie, a black coffee and boots up on the coffee table kind of pie,” to which the rest of us would say, “Get your boots off the table.” The apples in the filling were pleasingly crisp, and not too sweet. The consensus: yummy, but more crumbs on top, please.

Grazi’s Deli, Newport

We tried more apple pies than any other flavor, and this one arrived alongside the one from Umpleby’s and was equally well liked, if for different reasons. To most, the crust was a standout, flaky without sacrificing sturdiness. One person wrote that in a blind taste test, “I would have trouble distinguishing this pie from my mom’s,” perhaps the highest praise a person can give a pie, if, dare we say it, her mother is a good baker.

Woodstock Farmer’s Market

We must have been in an extra-crabby mood on Jan. 25. How else to explain the way we simultaneously demolished and picked apart the strawberry-rhubarb and apple pies from this estimable Woodstock emporium? Both of the pies had crumb toppings, which led to complaints about how the crumbs mixed in with the gooey strawberry-rhubarb filling, which most contended was too sweet.

The apple pie was better received, and one person noted that the crumb topping on both pies was “perfect,” but then wrote, “My plastic fork couldn’t handle the thick crust.” One person wrote a long paragraph, as if we’re working for Cook’s Illustrated or something, concluding with, “Both were irresistible, but disappointing.” Well, which is it?

The Fort, Lebanon

Why some biter/writers tasted hints of bacon in the blueberry pie from this Lebanon truck stop/diner is an enduring mystery. There’s really no other way to slice it, this pie was not well liked. Another questionable definition of “journalist” (aside from “enemy of the American people”) is “someone who eats his weight in snacks each year.” If journalists question your pie, en masse, maybe some recipe testing is in order.

Mickey’s Cafe, Enfield

The apple pie from Mickey’s won almost unanimous acclaim. First off, it was still warm when we cut into it. The crust was tender to cut and to the bite, yet sturdy and flavorful. The apples were slightly firm. One commenter wrote, “I have not had better.”

Four Aces Diner, West Lebanon

The vinegar pie served in this classic Worcester Dining Car is itself a classic, and the newsies scarfed it down. It served up in a beautiful, pale yellow wedge, had a perfect texture, with a little crunch from the sugar on top of the soft filling, followed by a generous, buttery crust. It is one of the Upper Valley’s signature pies, as we’re not sure any other establishment regularly makes one.

Piecemeal Pies, White River Junction

This is the only place we tried with “pie” in its name, so expectations were high. Even though this shop specializes in meat pies, it makes a couple of fruit pies by special order and the apple-blueberry (or was it blueberry-apple?), with its rustic lattice top, was a standout, particularly for its crust. This pie was universally beloved. “Best pie yet,” one person wrote in neat schoolgirl cursive.

Sadly, it was also the last pie we tried, having run out of time. In addition to P&H, we had hoped to get pies from Hartland Diner. Eaton’s Sugar House in Royalton makes its signature maple-pecan pie, though you have to order ahead if you want a whole one. Mountain Creamery in Woodstock sells pies, and there’s a Lebanon woman who sells pies through the local listservs.

While we argued about the qualities of the pies we sampled, what’s inarguable is that there’s lots of good and even great pie available in the Upper Valley.

Happy Pi(e) Day.



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