GRAY — Charlotte Schatz carefully measured out 3 tablespoons of sugar, a teaspoon of salt and the other ingredients for pie crust. Then the 9-year-old, who loves to bake, watched as her grandmother, Nancy, started mixing the dough.

After a little hand mixing, Nancy Schatz, wearing a pink apron with cherries on it, commented on the “just wonderful texture” and asked Charlotte if she’d like to try.

“You should know this texture,” she said. “It’s perfect. It will kind of almost snap back at you when you push down on it.”

It’s a simple kitchen scene, one that plays itself out in homes all over Maine during blueberry season. But there’s a lot more going on here at Ten Apple Farm than just making a blueberry pie.

On one level, it’s a passing-down-of-the-family-recipe event, this time to the fifth generation. It’s also precious baking time for a woman living with a chronic disease that is taking more of a toll these days. And it’s a celebration of a family triumph – that special day in 1991 when Nancy Schatz took home first place in the pie contest at Old Hallowell Day. The trophy has been misplaced, but not the memories.

Nancy Schatz, 71, got the recipe from her mother, and she believes her mother, Elizabeth Tomkin Sax, got it from her grandmother, who was named Kate.

“My mother’s mother was such a wonderful cook,” Nancy said. “I’m sure that’s where she got it.”

Grandmother Kate was from Odessa, a large city in Ukraine. She emigrated to Philadelphia, and the family eventually landed in Watertown, New York. When it came time for Nancy to marry, her grandmother made her a stunning wedding dress with a lace bodice, three-quarter-length sleeves and an unusual collar of lace. A black-and-white photo of Nancy – young, healthy and beautiful – wearing the dress hangs in her son’s 1901 farmhouse, where she was making the pie with Charlotte and one of Charlotte’s little sisters, 7-year-old Beatrice.

Nancy’s parents moved the family to Maine when she was in third grade. Her father sold ladies’ foundation garments as a traveling salesman. They lived in a house on William Street in Portland, the house where her wedding portrait was taken on a grand staircase.

After high school, Nancy attended Tufts University, where she studied physical therapy, eventually working at many hospitals in Boston. Her training helped her understand what was happening to her body when she was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 1972, just months after her daughter was born.

Nancy and her husband, Bruce Schatz, settled in central Maine and raised their family in Hallowell. Over the years, she brought out the blueberry pie recipe on holidays, including Thanksgiving, and whenever company visited. And, of course, during blueberry season.

“It just wouldn’t be a proper summer in our house without it,” said Karl Schatz, Charlotte’s father.

Every summer it was a family tradition to go to Old Hallowell Day – Karl says it was a bigger deal than the Fourth of July – and in 1991, Nancy entered her blueberry pie in the pie contest. She won that year, and the year after, as well, for her apple crumb pie.

The secret? For the blueberry pie, it’s orange juice in the crust and a touch of brandy in the filling. “That’s the highlight of the whole pie,” Nancy said. “Truly. It always surprises people.”

Nancy’s daughter-in-law, Margaret Hathaway, says tapioca also makes the filling “fantastic.” “If you make it with flour (as a thickener) it’s too watery, but the tapioca makes the juice set up,” she said.

Hathaway was working as the manager at Magnolia Bakery in New York City when she started dating Karl Schatz. As she worked on the bakery’s second cookbook, “More From Magnolia,” she realized “there were some holes.” Though the bakery is most famous as the place that sparked America’s cupcake obsession, she plotted to include Nancy Schatz’s prize-winning blueberry pie in the book as a surprise.

“We didn’t have a good blueberry pie recipe,” Hathaway said. “And I thought it might butter up my future in-laws, so there was definitely some calculation there.”

The couple drove a copy of the finished cookbook to Maine for the Fourth of July weekend, not long after Nancy’s birthday, and presented it to her as a belated birthday gift.

“I was overwhelmed,” Nancy said. “Totally.”

Bruce and Nancy Schatz now live in Manchester on Cobbosseecontee Lake. She still loves to bake, but recently has had to cut back on time in the kitchen.

“I would bake every day if I could,” she said. “Bruce doesn’t want me to.”

“Physically, it’s not good,” he said.

Nancy wanted to bring chocolate chip cookies to her granddaughters the day they were going to make the blueberry pie, but she fell in the kitchen at home.

“I fall a lot,” she said. “I’ve got all these bruises.” Still, she says she continues to surprise her doctors with how well she is doing overall. She chalks it up to eating well and exercising. She even plays golf. (“Well, my version of it.”)

It’s easier for her to bake when she has help in the kitchen – someone to move a heavy bowl of dough from counter to counter, or to help her remember whether she has already added the cinnamon to the filling. In Florida, it’s a woman she hired to help out at home. In Maine, it’s her granddaughters Charlotte and Beatrice. (Three-year-old Sadie would rather pick flowers for her mother than bake a pie.)

Bea washes the blueberries, then stirs the filling while Charlotte adds the tapioca. Nancy shows Charlotte how to pinch and crimp the top and bottom crusts together.

Nancy remembers the last time she made this pie. The edges of the crust fell into the pie while it was baking.

“Not this one,” Hathaway remarked. “It’s beautiful. That is a fine-looking pie.”

Charlotte chimed in: “I’ll bet it could win a beauty contest.”

Charlotte used a knife to cut the vents in the pie, making the shape of a leaf.

“Thanks for all the help, lady,” Nancy said to her granddaughter.

“You’re welcome,” Charlotte replied. “I can’t wait to eat it.”


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