NAPPANEE — What does it take to bake the biggest (and perhaps tastiest) pie in Indiana? There is only one secret.
Area residents know — a group of hard-working volunteer bakers, and Nappanee-quality ingredients … that and a giant pie tin and oversized oven.
Thursday, Sept. 13 started off the Nappanee Apple Festival but before the crowds made their way to the downtown area, volunteers were gathering at 7 a.m. to make the seven-foot behemoth pastry that tens of thousands of people from all around come to gawk at and get a taste of.
Miriam “Mim” Hartman, festival volunteer (and nurse) dubbed Annual Piemaker, busted out the hair nets, aprons and gloves as ingredients and utensils were hauled in to work on the traditional foodstuff thought up by Ron and Glenna Telschow, owners of Ron’s Bakery in Nappanee in 1976.
The oven and pan they had created for the task are the same still used today. The gargantuan pie tin is kept at the Nappanee Center but the oven waits patiently all year at what is now El Cielito Lindo (formerly the bakery) for the project to begin. Though businesses housed in the building have changed since the Telschows retired in 2002, the home of the creation of the largest apple pie in Indiana stands ready.
“When businesses change in the building, that is part of the agreement, that they allow us to use the restaurant to make and display our pie,” Hartman explained.
Once her team of volunteers including Connie Fink, Marianne Ervin, Ruby Wertz, Laura Miller, Carol Hershberger, and Abby Kauffman were prepped, the crew began the tedious and important process. Some began cleaning the pie tin and others the tables to be used. Then the workspace was dashed with flour followed by the kneading and rolling of the 100 pounds of dough (from Baker’s Nook in Goshen).
“We need it to be a third-inch thick ladies,” Hartman instructed her crew (armed with rolling pins) to assure uniformity. “If it’s too thin it will burn and if it’s too thick it won’t bake.”
The ovals pads of dough rolled, it was then pressed into the pie pan with ready hands pinching and then rolling the ends to meld into one solid crust which slightly overlapped the pan. “We piece it together like a giant puzzle and roll the seams flush,” Hartman explained.
Then came the 19 bushels of apple filling from Plain and Fancy Gourmet Kettle located in Nappanee’s Coppes Commons. Buckets of the flavorful concoction were poured into the crust and spread evenly within the pan.
More dough was rolled and laid upon a specially-made cutting board three inches wide. “We used to make it the entire width,” Hartman explained. “But when I came on I decided to make it half the width. It just makes it a little … prettier.”
The dough — in strips of which the pie’s lattice pattern is made — were trimmed to uniformity with a pizza cutter and then rolled loosely onto a rolling pin, carried to the pan, and then unrolled across the top. When one direction was complete, the cross layer was added in the same fashion and those with the longest arms had the easiest time of it. Anthony Kauffman, with his sister Abby, earned the role of the “unroller” during this, his second year of volunteering to assist with the mammoth creation.
“It sounded like fun so I volunteered last year and it was,” the young man said. “I think it’s great and I love to be able to say I had a hand in making this.”
Once the cross strips were laid, volunteers brushed each with a mixture of egg whites and sugar before crimping the edges for that just-perfect pie crust edging. Another signature process of Hartman’s, she pressed tiny apple shapes into the lattice strips with a cutter at the cross sections to add a unique and charming touch.
The giant oven was warmed at 350 degrees and at 2 p.m. a small army of town department heads, Apple Festival committee members, family members, town employees and department volunteers hefted the 600-pound pie tin (which weighs roughly 200 pounds when empty) into the mouth of the oven.
“The only thing different than a regular apple pie is that it’s bigger,” said Hartman.
Big enough in fact that a section of wall must be removed from the restaurant in order to get the pie into the kitchen.
For 17 hours the pie was baked (with the oven door open for the first hour) and at 7:30 the following morning, the army of men faithfully returned with the muscle to remove the cooled pastry, carefully shuffling it across the restaurant and setting it up on a series of tables (guarded with a unit of fencing) in one of the restaurant’s large front windows.
“We give some to the restaurant,” Hartman said. “The rest we take to the Napple Store and it’s usually all sold by Saturday. Altogether it makes about 1,100 pieces.”
The first piece cut, Hartman offered it as a token and test of it’s tasty integrity. ... And it was delicious.