Avis Ford is about to make a lot of dough.

A longtime member of the New Gloucester Maine Historical Society, Ford is the overseer and chief baker of an annual apple pie fundraiser, set for Sept. 25, to benefit the organization’s historical properties and educational programs.

On Sept. 23, Ford will roll up her sleeves and immerse her hands in a large bowl of flour and shortening to create pastry shells for the 150 pies that will be turned out for the sale. She and an assistant will make 300 disks of dough, to be stored in the church’s refrigerator and rolled out in assembly-line fashion on the morning of the sale.

Ford has been heading the baking effort for about 12 years. She replaces the late Cokey Wills and Phyllis Snow, longtime bakers and contributors to the popular fundraiser.

“I started out serving on the Refreshment Committee and ended up getting blessed with this duty,” said Ford, who is the sole crust-maker for this bake-off.

“I honestly enjoy making it myself,” said Ford. “Though I do have an assistant, who adds the water to the dough so I can keep my hands in the bowl; they get pretty sticky.”

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Ford never uses a pastry cutter or food processor to make her pie crust. She prefers a smearing method of pinching the dough together with her fingers to incorporate the shortening into the flour to create a tender yet crisp pie crust. It’s a technique she learned nearly 60 years ago from her mother and grandmother.

“I need to feel the texture of the dough to know when it is the right consistency before adding the cold water,” said Ford.

Asking Ford if she ever uses premade pie crusts when pressed for time was tantamount to sacrilege.

“Heavens no!” she responded, noting that the only box mix she uses in baking is for angel food cake because “my recipe calls for 12 egg whites and I don’t want to waste all those yolks.”

Ford directs a baking crew of a dozen or so volunteers who assist her each year in putting the pies together.

She arrives at the church around 6 a.m. on baking day to fire up the two large gas ovens in the kitchen; each is capable of baking up to eight pies at a time.

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Volunteers arrive a bit later to peel and slice the apples, roll out dough, fill pie shells and crimp the pastry edges before the pies are baked. In the church’s dining hall, tables are covered with newspaper and topped with chicken wire to form a makeshift cooling rack for the pies. The baking process is usually completed by 3 p.m., with many of the customers leaving the church with hot apple pies.

The apples are donated by Thompson’s Apple Orchard, which allows the volunteers to pick apple “drops” (fruit that has dropped on the ground) to use for the pie filling – about 18 large bags of them.

When Ford first started volunteering, the crew made 100 pies. “Today, we cap it at 150,” said Ford, whose hands are as tender as her crusts after all that smearing.

Historical Society President Beverly Cadigan, a member since 1986, recalled the early days of the pie sale.

“Back then, we sold just a few dozen of them on the steps at Town Hall,” said Cadigan. “Then the Shaker community at New Gloucester allowed us to use their reception center during one of their three scheduled apple weekends. Now, the sale has gotten so popular that most of the pies are sold before they come out of the oven.”

Cadigan typically orders seven or eight pies for herself, buying them unbaked and freezing them to bake during the holidays or to give away later as gifts.

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The pie sale is one of two major fundraisers for the historical society. Last year’s sale generated profits of $1,127.50 after supply costs.

“Our other big fundraiser is a strawberry festival, held each June, that draws 300 to 400 people,” said Cadigan. “Avis doesn’t head that event, but she does make all of the biscuits (from scratch) for the strawberry shortcakes sold there.”

Cadigan said Ford recently retired from 40 years as an emergency medical technician for a local emergency rescue and she also serves on the historical society’s board of directors, baking treats for the group’s monthly meetings.

“Avis is known for her amazing baking ability and for turning out huge quantities of it. It’s a big service to the community. And that is why she’s the one heading this pie sale.”

Ford is quick to credit her fellow volunteers. “I have a great baking crew. They really know what they are doing.”


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