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August 12, 2008

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Pie Day 2008

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Listen Click here to get the audio from Pie Day 2008
as told by Brian Wheeler on WINA


Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Pie Day began as a conversation between myself and Coy Barefoot on the Charlottesville Right Now program on WINA AM 1070.

I shared with Coy a November 2006 Washington Post article that I had found very amusing.  It told the story of the Hill High Country Store in Loudoun County, VA that was famous for its pies at Thanksgiving.  The pie loyalists, including many foreign embassies in Washington, D.C., annually descend upon the store for a holiday pie.  The store’s secret, however, was shared at the end of the article—the pies come from 4-5 frozen food vendors including Sara Lee.

That got Coy Barefoot and I talking about authentic home cooking.  Over the course of several programs, I shared my experiences with Montana Plains Bakery in Lynchburg, Mrs. Rowes in Staunton, and Midtown Market in Danville.  Whenever we talked about pie, the phones rang off the hook in the WINA studios.  People even brought us pies to eat.  Everyone, it turns out, has an opinion about pie and other tasty baked goods.  Callers shared a long list of candidates for the best pie in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  But which was THE BEST?  Did we have a country store selling authentic pies that deserved more attention?


SlideFlickr Slideshow

Since our day-to-day work at Charlottesville Tomorrow includes reporting on growth and development throughout the City and County, our staff naturally need to be intimately acquainted with the community.  While I have lived in the area since 1984 and seen most of the County, my colleague Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Program Officer, is a City resident with more limited exposure to Albemarle’s rural fields, farms and forests.  Thus giving Sean, and our summer intern Ben Doernberg, a tour of Albemarle AND searching for the best home baked pie became our mission.

Pie Day 2008 took place on Friday, August 8, 2008.  It was only after we scheduled it that we got a good laugh about how we were embarking on 8-8-08--Ate, Ate, oh how we Ate some pie.

Trip Stats:

  • Duration of trip: 9 hours 36 minutes
  • Distance traveled: 160 miles
  • Highest point: 1,332 feet at Mission Home, VA
  • Lowest point: 249 feet in Scottsville, VA
  • Photos taken: 379
  • Streams forded: One (up to my hubcaps)
  • Stores with pie: Three (Lumpkin’s, Crossroad, and Chiles)

Before anyone gets testy, let me quickly point out that we couldn’t visit all the places we wanted to go.  There is clearly going to be a Pie Day II.  We decided to focus our first trip on the rural areas South, West, and North of Charlottesville.  Pie Day II will include Charlottesville, Albemarle’s Urban Ring, and points East.  Let me also point out that you can follow along as I describe the trip using the maps and photos below.

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Since we woke up early Friday morning and I had not had any coffee, that was our first priority.  I suggested we stop at Charlottesville’s famous Spudnuts Coffee Shop.  While not pie, a Blueberry Spudnut is on my list of epic Charlottesville foods that everyone needs to know about.  Then we headed South to Scottsville, VA.  On the way, we stopped at any country store that looked promising.  Our strategy was simply walk in and immediately ask, “Do you have any Pie?”  Our first stop was a little disconcerting when we were directed to the Little Debbie display.  Our second stop had similar plastic wrapped snacks, but no fresh pie. 

20080808-lumpkins4 Fortunately, one of the callers to Coy’s show had instructed us to go to Lumpkin’s (home of the Big Chicken) Restaurant and Motel in Scottsville.  When we asked our waitress if they had pie, she pointed to the dry erase board on the wall which listed the daily specials.  Half the board contained their list of pies, eight in total!.  We tried the Peach Cobbler, the Peach Cobbler a la mode, and the Coconut Custard.  All were very, very good and we highly recommend Lumpkin’s.

We left Scottsville to visit Howardsville, VA along the James River, the Southernmost point in Albemarle County.  This was a place I had not been previously.  We walked in to the Howardsville General Store very optimistic.  It looked like a substantial country store that would know good home cooking.  The staff was very nice, and while they did not have any pie, they did recommend coming back if we ever had a Burger Day adventure.  We bought three bottles of Coke, the small glass bottles of course, and then paid a visit to the James River at Baber’s landing.

Next it was time to start heading North over to Covesville, VA on Route 29.  Covesville has a long history in the apple orchard business.  While I knew the Covesville Store was now selling antiques, I hoped there was an oven baking pies somewhere in the back.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  We took some pictures and departed for Crossroad Store on Route 29 near North Garden, VA.

Another caller to Coy’s show told us that we had to stop there to get Vern’s Five Fruit Pie.  However, the folks at Covesville had told us that Vern had sold the store.  The question was, had he sold the recipe for the Five Fruit Pie?  We walked in and examined the pie case and saw a large number of pies were available.  “May we have one Five Fruit Pie?”  We waited anxiously as the clerk moved the pies around searching for the right one.  Success!  We set up some folding chairs in the grass outside Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie (the pizza variety).  We cut three pieces and started sampling.  Wow!  This was a good pie.

We came with a scorecard and a rating scale developed with extensive research using Google (i.e. it was the first hit).  We scored pies based upon their appearance, crust, filling, and location (Was this a historic country store?  Were the staff memorable and friendly?).  The Crossroad Five Fruit Pie scored very well.  So well, I figured I better send our intern Ben in to ask about the five ingredients in the Five Fruit Pie.  Ben returned with the news the staff didn’t know because the pies were not made there.  Perhaps Vern didn’t sell that recipe after all!  Still, it was very good pie, but we couldn’t score it as authentically baked on the premises.

Next, we headed West towards Batesville and Crozet.  Batesville Store owner Liza Scallet was busy in the kitchen when we arrived.  Unfortunately, she was not busy making pie, though she promised she would do so if we gave her advance notice.  Batesville is also famous for its Apple Festival, so we may come back in the future looking for Apple Pie.  Broadening our mission again to sample other non-pie items, I bought a famous Scallett Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Awesome!  Just like my Grandmother’s.   We had a chance for free Scallet Cookies, but we couldn’t convince Ben to dance for them.

20080808-chiles7 Next it was off to Greenwood, VA which is West of Crozet.  I have often been to the Chiles Peach Orchard over the years, but I had never sampled their pies.  At their recently renovated store, the first thing we saw sitting at the register was an inviting homemade Peach Cobbler.  Given our experience with the Five Fruit Pie, I asked the questions before buying this time.  “So who makes your pies?” I asked.  Bill the cashier said Ally Chiles made them fresh several days each week. In fact, the hand written label on the pie said it was "Made with Love," and "Made This Morning." Perfect. 

Sitting on their porch overlooking the peach orchard all three of us realized we had found the winner.  This was amazing pie.  After our trip, I called back to Chiles and spoke to Ally.  It turns out Ally is a Junior at Western Albemarle High School and she said her Grandmother taught her how to make the Chiles family Peach Cobbler.  Ally explained to me that she has been baking pies to sell for a couple of years.  She does Peach Cobbler between June and August and then switches to Apple Pie in the Fall. 

“What goes in your pie?” I asked.   “Well first I peel the Chiles Peaches,” said Ally.  “Then I add sugar and let that mix cool in the refrigerator.” “Ally those were amazing pies, are there any other ingredients?” I asked.  “There are a couple of secret ingredients,” she responded.  Every winning pie needs those.  Well at least one secret is out.  If you want some great Peach Cobbler, go to Chiles Peach Orchard and ask for one of Ally’s pies.  She only makes a few each week.

20080808-boonesville1 As the Pie Day Team headed North through Crozet to White Hall, we reflected on the morning’s journey.  All three of us had a renewed appreciation for the grandeur and scale of Albemarle’s rural countryside.  Great food and great people are certainly one of the special attributes of our community, and we had found a good helping of both on this trip.

While I had a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) that I would later use to encode the location on all the photographs, Sean had made it clear he enjoyed the traditional paper maps and being our navigator.  So Sean guided us up past White Hall to Mission Home on Albemarle’s Northwestern border with Greene County.  I have eaten a lot of Mission Home Banana Bread and Pumpkin Bread which is sold in shops around town.   I was hoping, however, that we would find some pie in the Mission Home Bakeshop.  No luck.  We did leave with some great pictures of their bell tower and some other tasty treats.  I found the drive in that area of the County to be the most scenic, particularly as we headed East towards Boonesville and Nortonsville.

20080808-WINA While we didn’t find any more pie, we did have fun as Sean’s navigating had us fording a stream near Free Union.  My VW Passat wasn’t really equipped for the river, but I think the water only went up to my “hubcaps.”  We also got out of the car and explored the Advance Mills bridge area as that has been the subject of numerous Charlottesville Tomorrow stories.

As Pie Day 2008 came to an end and we drove back into town, we heard Coy Barefoot talking on the radio about our adventure.  We quickly pulled in to the station so Coy could sample some of the rest of that Five Fruit Pie sitting in the cooler in the back of my car. He tried to get the story out of us, but we told him he’d have to wait until he had us back for next week’s show.

Brian Wheeler

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