Mind & Body

For The Love Of Pie

How a young widow found a little bit of comfort in her kitchen.

For The Love Of Pie
Pin it Stella Swann

Now here I was, driving down a highway in rural Iowa nine years after meeting Marcus, marrying him and burying him, and I was faced with another unexpected fork in the road. The “American Gothic” house. That little white farmhouse in Grant Wood’s iconic painting of the dour-looking couple holding the pitchfork. Why not?

The house was recognizable from the instant it came into view. It was so cute, so petite, so precious in an old-fashioned wooden dollhouse kind of way. After peeking in the windows and falling in love even further, I went inside the neighboring visitor center and poked around the museum, where I learned the house, built in 1881, had been inhabited as recently as 2008. The cogs in my brain started turning. I asked a few questions. And the next thing I knew I was calling the landlord at the State Historical Society of Iowa, asking him—begging him—to rent it to me. He said yes.

When I first moved into the house, I didn’t immediately recognize it as the perfect place to make pies. But within days of my furniture—and baking supplies—arriving, I unintentionally started a new business: The Pitchfork Pie Stand. I bake throughout the week to sell my pies to tourists on the weekends. I knead bowl after bowl of dough in my tiny kitchen while listening to Marcus’ collection of cello music on my iPod. I slide into that familiar, meditative trance while peeling apples by the bushelful. I spend hours rolling 40 pie crusts at a time, my mind calming with each push of the rolling pin, my heart healing with each pie that comes browned and bubbling out of the oven.

I feed my pies to hungry, appreciative and often curious visitors. Pie connects me with the people passing through, it keeps me from being too isolated, it keeps me moving forward, toward happiness. In between bites of cinnamon-infused sweetness and subsequent moans of approval, people ask me how I ended up here. “Oh, that’s quite a story,” I tell them with a laugh and hope their next bite distracts them from how quickly I change the subject.

After six months living here, I can say I’m happy—at least, as happy as I can be nearly two years after losing my husband. I love the house. I love the balance between quiet pie-baking weekdays and noisy people-filled weekends. I love living so close to my birthplace, which gives me a surprising sense of groundedness—roots I didn’t realize I still have.

I haven’t come to any more life-altering forks in the road. The only forks I’m dealing with these days are the plastic ones I hand out with my slices of pie, and the pitchfork I lend to visitors to pose for photos in front of the house. If only Grant Wood could see this place now. Were he to paint “American Gothic” today, he might portray a strong, single woman instead of the couple. She would be smiling. And holding a pie.