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Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010 05:22 am

Baking pies to build a better neighborhood


Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association members assembling pies for last year’s Thanksgiving pie sale. Orders are now being taken for this year’s sale.

Except for college and four years in Chicago when my husband was in dental school, I’ve always lived in the country. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s wonderful having our own woods with wildflowers, massive trees and wildlife; and enough land for privacy, gardening, picnics in warm weather, and bonfires in fall. But listening to Steve Combs and Karen Anderson talk about their beloved Enos Park area made me wish I could somehow be a part of such an historic and genuinely neighborly neighborhood as well.

When I first phoned Steve Combs, he asked if I’d call back later: “I’m up on the railroad overpass between Fifth and Sixth streets, painting over some graffiti,” he said. Combs is the president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association; clearly he takes his job to heart.     

I’d called Combs to ask about the annual EPNIA Thanksgiving pie sale, a major fundraiser for the association. “He’s the best president we’ve ever had,” Karen Anderson told me. “If it wasn’t for Steve, we wouldn’t be doing the pie sales.”

They probably wouldn’t be doing pie sales without Anderson, either. That’s because she’s the “professional” pie maker in charge of pie production. Pies were a specialty of Anderson’s when she owned Karen’s Country Café on North Grand.

Anderson has lots of help, which is fortunate, because the number of pies the group sells has risen to around 500 pies each Thanksgiving. In the weeks leading up to our most American holiday, the pie shells (bottom crusts) are rolled into foil pans, stacked and frozen. Three days before Thanksgiving, 20 to 25 people gather in the basement kitchen of the Elliott Avenue Baptist Church to begin filling and baking the pies.

“We make everything, everything from scratch,” Anderson says. The quantities are staggering: 5 bushels of apples, 40 gallons of milk, 110 dozen eggs, 30 gallons of whipping cream, 45 lbs. of pecans, and a gallon and a half of vanilla are just some of the ingredients that go into the five varieties sold.

“By Thanksgiving, I’m running on fumes,” laughs Anderson. “Even though it’s better than it used to be.” That’s largely due to the organizational abilities of Combs, a retired wrestling coach and biology teacher from Mahomet-Seymour High School.

Enos Park residents are fiercely proud of their neighborhood with its many beautiful old homes, seven of which have the potential to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. But the residents also know that it’s a neighborhood in transition. Money that the EPNIA raises goes for such things as legal fees to go after problem properties. Funds are earmarked for safety and security. And not least, the EPNIA’s proactive board contracted two urban planning firms to put together a master plan to be announced Nov. 9. The researchers see potential in the Enos Park neighborhood’s proximity to downtown and its history. “We’re hoping to build on that tremendous history and our great architecture to carve out our own little niche here in Springfield,” says Combs.

You’d think that after their Thanksgiving pie sale, the EPNIA members would take a well-deserved rest. Hardly. Ten days later, on Dec. 4, they’ll hold their annual Christmas Cookie and Candy Walk, with homemade contributions from “all the people in the neighborhood,” says Combs. “We use the pie sale as a springboard for the Cookie and Candy Walk.”

The benefits provided by those and other events go beyond money. “Building a neighborhood involves refurbishing houses and fighting crime,” says Enos Park resident, EPNIA board member, and Illinois Times editor Fletcher Farrar. “But more than that, it means building relationships between neighbors. When we work together cutting apples, filling pie boxes, and cleaning up, we’re getting to know our neighbors. And the better we get to know each other while making pies, the better our neighborhood will be.”

“Things keep improving all the time,” Combs says. “Come Nov. 25, we’ll have a lot to be thankful for.”

The Enos Park Neighborhood Association offers pecan, pumpkin, Dutch apple, coconut cream, and chocolate cream pies at their Thanksgiving sale. The cost is $13 per pie, and orders will be taken up to Wednesday, Nov., 17. The pies can be picked up on Wednesday, Nov. 24, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Elliott Avenue Baptist Church, 501 W. Elliott (one block south of North Grand Avenue). To order, call 638-8175 or 522-9381, or FAX 522-5557. Contact Steve Combs for additional information at 494-6668 or steven_combs_592@comcast.net.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

Pumpkin pecan pie

Here’s a solution for those who struggle with the dilemma, “Do I want pumpkin or pecan pie?” For tips on making pie pastry as well as a recipe and thoughts on the best shortenings to use, see my 10/22/08 RealCuisine column.

  • 1 unbaked deep-dish 9-inch or 10-inch pie shell
  • 1 beaten egg, 2 T. reserved for the pecan topping

For the pumpkin filling:

  • 1 c. heavy cream, 1 T. reserved for pecan topping
  • 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 1 3/4 c. cooked, puréed pumpkin
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, optional

For the pecan topping:

  • 1/3 c. cane syrup or dark corn syrup
  • 1/3 c. packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1 T. reserved heavy cream
  • 2 T. reserved beaten egg
  • 1 C. broken pecan pieces, lightly toasted (325° for 5 minutes)
  • 1 C. pecan halves, lightly toasted (325° for 5 minutes)

Preheat the oven to 425°. Freeze the shell for at least 15 minutes, then gently press a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil onto the bottom and sides of the crust with as few wrinkles as possible. Fill with rice or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Pull the corners of the foil inward so they don’t tear the crust. Grab two corners of the foil in each hand and lift straight up to remove the foil. Brush the bottom and sides of the shell with egg and return to the oven. Bake 2-3 minutes longer until the egg is set.

Lower the oven temperature to 375°. Combine the pumpkin filling ingredients in a large bowl or the container of a blender or food processor and whisk thoroughly. Pour into the prepared shell, making sure to leave AT LEAST an inch of space for the pecan topping. (Extra filling can be baked in individual ramekins as for custard.) Bake for 45 minutes or until the filling has just barely set.

While the pie bakes, prepare the pecan topping. In a medium skillet, melt the butter and then stir in the syrup, brown sugar and salt. Stir over medium heat just until the mixture bubbles and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm. Stir in the beaten egg. Place the pecan halves in a bowl and add 2 T. of the syrup mixture. Stir gently to coat the nuts, keeping them whole. Add the broken pecans to the skillet and mix well.

When the pumpkin filling is just barely set, remove from the oven. If the mixture in the skillet has gotten cold, warm it slightly over low heat to make it easier to spread. Gently spread the broken pecan mixture evenly over the pumpkin filling, then arrange the coated pecan halves decoratively on top. There should be enough to completely cover the top, and perhaps a few left over (the cook’s treat!). Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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