The other day I was in the mood for a pie. I wasn't sure what kind. Cherry? Strawberry? Raspberry? Maybe, but those pies sound like summer to me and summer is quickly fading away. And, it's too early for apple pie, which feels like fall.
I did know where I wanted to go to get the pie. I have been hearing forever about Gator Creek Farms, on Route 1 right on the Clinton-Madison town line. A little farm stand next to Gator Gas, it sells fresh fruit, corn, Adirondack style chairs, and pies, for which it is locally famous.
Melanie, who lives in Clinton, has been going to the Gator Creek Farms stand long enough to know that early afternoon is often too late to buy pie there, so she was happy to settle for the tomatoes and corn. I went inside to find out when they might have more pies.
"I don't know. You have to check with Carmine. He's the pie king. He has all the answers," said Kevin, also from Clinton, who was working the counter. "I'm just a friend of Carmine helping out." Kevin said his favorite Gator Creek Farms pie is apple/raspberry, which sounded just about perfect to me, a little bit of summer, a little bit of fall. Kevin said another big favorite is the peach/blueberry/cherry.
Kevin said I would find the proprietor of the farm stand, Carmine Patrizio, at the Gator Gas station, which is also owned by Carmine.
I walked over and asked the man behind the counter if he was Carmine the pie king who had all the answers. "That's what they say," Carmine said, while making change for one customer and chatting up another who was browsing the selection of cookies, candies and other edibles packing the front counter
Carmine said the farm stand would be restocking soon with the pies. I asked him why they are so famous locally. He thought for a moment and said he and his wife Abby make them at the family farm on Pratt Road in Clinton, about a half mile away "as the crow flies except you can't get there from here because of the river."
"You know, some pies are mass produced, and when they are mass produced there isn't a lot of love in any single pie," he said. "There's love in a single pie." Carmine said he starts with the right kind of fruit. "The fruit is bred and grown specially for pies because a 350 degree oven can break the wrong kind of fruit down quickly. You need a good firm fruit or it turns to mush," he said. "And we use no canned fruit. Ever."
"The crust? Well .... " he stopped for a moment to make change for another customer. "Sixteen on seven," he said, giving the dollar amount and the pump number to the customer. "That's $16.54 ... So, the crust. That is information I don't give out. It's special, I can tell you that. Beyond that, it's a proprietary secret."
"Lard?" I asked. I know some people think the very idea of lard is gross, but when it comes to pie crusts, there are those who swear by leaf lard. I myself prefer butter, but often opt for the easy way out by buying the pre-made pie crust in the red box from the supermarket.
Not lard, not butter, said Carmine, as he continued to make change and greet the steady stream of friends and customers coming in the door. He went as far as to tell me that making the crust involves a special blend of oils.
Paul Ingalls, Carmine's friend who lives in Clinton and works nearby, stopped in for some gas and for some Almond Crescent Cookies. "They're addictive," he told me, offering me a bit of one. Made by Marguerita's Sweets & Crafts, LLC, of Clinton, they were addictively delicious, as were the handmade scones made by Marguerita's, also sold at the Gator Gas station.
Carmine said he stocks the cookies and scones because he loves good food. But his favorite is his own egg custard pie. "To die for," he said. "Baked. Then chilled." That's available by special order only. Carmine said, pretty soon, he'll have to start thinking about making preparations for the Thanksgiving rush. Orders start to come in around Labor Day.
"Thanksgiving is the number one pie day," he said. "To get ready for that, we'll have to make up to 100 a day, which is about the most we can make in one day. We'll get up at 3 a.m. and we'll be making them all day.
When you make that many pies, are they all made with love?
"You don't love anything about pie when you make that many," Carmine said. Still, he said, his Thanksgiving pies remain enormously popular.
As for this past summer, Carmine said he was surprised to find simple peach pie outpacing the peach/blueberry/cherry, which is normally his most popular. He wondered if the still suffering economy had anything to do with that. The peach pie is $13.50 and the peach/blueberry/cherry is $15.50. "Two bucks is two bucks," he said.
As summer turns to fall, he will be shifting production. What do people want? "Apple, apple, apple," he said, pie made with Granny Smith apples, cooked until they are just "al dente." We chatted about the possible effects of climate change on the crispiness of apples, the relative merits of domestic apples versus those imported from the mountains of India, and why it can be hard to find a decent Granny Smith in Connecticut.
As we finished our chat, Marla Ingalls, Paul's wife, walked in. "Your husband was just here!" Carmine said. "You just missed him!"
Carmine mentioned that Paul picked up some cookies on his way out. Marla and Paul, along with the woman who made the cookies that Paul bought, and Carmine ... they all went to Morgan High School in the early and mid 1970's. Carmine started his farm straight from high school, where he worked in the greenhouse.
Carmine told Marla about his day, which included employees calling in sick for work, a trip up to Hartford that took too long because the corn came in late, and other mishaps. And, on top of that, the farm stand was out of pie, he said.
"You better get baking tonight!" Marla said, before going outside to get some gas.
Want to make sure you have a pie waiting for you when you get to Gator Creek Farms? Call (860) 669-0080 to see what they have and if they have enough to set aside. To find out more information, including what kind of pies will be available for Thanksgiving, check the regularly published newsletter, distributed at the Gator Creek Farms farm stand on Route 1/Boston Post Road at the Clinton-Madison town line.