The Peace Through Pie message is spreading.
For the fourth year, Peace Through Pie founders Luanne Stovall and Toni Tipton-Martin are helping organize pie socials in Austin in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday this weekend to bring together people, no matter their race, economic status or political affiliation. In addition to pie socials at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, St. James Episcopal Church, Trinity United Methodist Church, Multicultural Refugee Coalition Community Center, the Griffin School and at a number of Foundation Communities apartment complexes in Austin, Stovall says that pie socials are being organized in Ohio, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Boston and New York City.
"At the end of the harvest (in fall), we start talking about the season of peace and togetherness," Stovall says. "And it's nice because the King holiday can put a bookend on that. We can start the year with peace in mind."
January symbolizes a fresh start, but it can be a cold, dark, depressing month. The post-holiday doldrums can set it as we all put our heads down and get back to work, trying to make this year even better and brighter than the last, but it's easy to feel stuck and helpless, which is all the more reason we need something like pie to bring us together, Stovall says.
"Government is in a gridlock, but we are not. This is an opportunity to reclaim your neighborhood, to step up and take leadership," she says.
The subject of race is still, in many ways, an "open wound" that seems to trigger discord, Stovall says, but by coming to the table, you are saying that you come in peace and want to find a way to heal these wounds. "You can be rich, poor, black, white, any age, any ethnicity, but you can come to the table and share the pie and the communion of the table," Stovall says.
Like in previous years, the big Austin event is a pie contest, social and silent auction at 2 p.m. Saturday at the historic Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville — see box for details on contest entry — but Stovall and Tipton-Martin are trying to encourage people to host smaller socials in their own neighborhoods. "People can host their own anytime, anywhere," Stovall says.
Several local high schools are getting in on the pie social action, not just as an excuse to eat dessert for lunch, but to teach students that the importance of food goes beyond what ingredients are called for in the recipe. "I think this event is a great way for my students to learn much more than how to make a pie crust, by understanding that the things and skills they learn in culinary arts are not just about food, but about being part of a community" says Mike Erickson, Culinary Arts instructor at Connally High School in Pflugerville.
At 1 p.m. Friday, culinary students from Connally and Travis high schools will host a pie social that is open to the public at Travis High School, 1211 E. Oltof St.
For information about the events, or on how to host your own pie social, go to peacethroughpie.org.
Emma's Coconut Pie
Austinite Emma Little gave Peace Through Pie its name, according to co-founder Luanne Stovall. For years, Little had been hosting pie socials for her family and friends, and she recalls that in 1969, around the time of a potluck ahead of a large peace rally, Little made a pumpkin pie and decorated the top of the pie with a ban the bomb peace symbol made of maple syrup-sugared pecans. "One of the guys says ‘Oh boy, peace pie.' Then someone said, ‘No piece o' pie.' Then I said, ‘Peace through pie.' And it stuck," she says. This coconut pie was the first prize winner at the inaugural Peace Through Pie contest at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in 2009. She says it tastes even better when served with a scoop of mango sorbet.
One 10-inch unbaked pie shell
1 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus one pinch
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 2/3 cups of fresh grated coconut, divided
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare pie shell. Take that pinch of sea salt and sprinkle it across the prepared unfilled pie shell.
Using a stand-up mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and rest of salt until light in color. Add butter and flour and blend well. Slowly blend in coconut milk. Fold in 1 1/3 cup grated coconut. Pour into prepared pie shell. Sprinkle with remaining grated coconut. Bake for one hour. Cool before slicing.
— Emma Little
Plain Old Pecan Pie
LeeAnn Atherton won first place at last year's Sweet Home Peace Through Pie Social. Atherton was a child living in the newly integrated south in the late 1950s and 1960s, so she remember's Martin Luther King Jr.'s message of equality and peace well. "He gave me my dream!" she wrote on her contest entry. "I had no intention of winning the contest," she says now. "I came to share a plain old pecan pie." She figures that the only thing that could have caused her pie to finish first was that she let it cool in the oven and then finished baking it the following day, but you could bake this all at once for 45 to 50 minutes.
1 pie shell, either homemade or premade
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake pie shell only partially, about 5 to 7 minutes. Allow pie shell to cool and reduce oven heat to 375 degrees.
While pie shell is cooling, cream together the butter, sugar, corn syrup and eggs. Mix in pecans, vanilla and salt. Fill the shell and bake the pie about 30 minutes. Turn off. Let it cool overnight, then bake an additional 15-20 minutes or until knife inserted in the filling comes out clean. Serve warm or room temperature.
— LeeAnn Atherton
Sweet Home's MLK Peace Through Pie Contest
Any home cook is welcome to enter a pie in the contest Saturday. Bring two pies to the Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, 1725 W. 11th St., by 11 a.m. Saturday. There are five categories: fruit, nut, chocolate, cream and gluten-free/sugar-free. Bring your recipe and story to share in a community cookbook that the organizers are putting together.
But you don't have to enter the contest to bring a pie to share. At 2 p.m., culinary students from Travis, Bowie and Austin high schools will be serving pies that have been brought in by the community, as well as many others that the students baked as part of their culinary studies. More information at peacethroughpie.org .