While Minot is waking up for another day, there's a group of 16 people in the First Lutheran Church kitchen getting pies ready to sell at the North Dakota State Fair.
Crust mixers, rollers, fillers and peelers get together and work three, maybe four hours at a feverish pace to crank out at least 70 pies a day.
The volunteer staff, most of them retired, will keep this pace going through Saturday, when the 2008 State Fair comes to a close.
Marvin Baker/MDN •
From left, Rose Brown, Freda Schultz, Mary Ann Kretschmar and Ona Gandrud, prepare pie crusts Tuesday morning at First Lutheran Church in Minot. The ladies prepare enough dough for at least 70 pies that are sold at the North Dakota State Fair.
Bernice Larsen is the kitchen supervisor. She makes sure everyone is busy and that the flow in the "factory" remains efficient.
Larsen said the process begins when a group of up to six men come in and peel fruit the bakers will need for that day's production.
"They peel everything we need," Larsen said. "Six of us will peel apples, peaches or strawberries. Whatever we need."
Marian Korterud loves her church. Maybe that's why she's been baking pies for so many years.
Korterud, 88, is part of a crew of 16 preparing pies for sale at the North Dakota State Fair. She's been doing it every year since 1951, the same year the church began doing it.
These days she fills the pie shells with peach, apple, strawberry or rhubarb filling and works about a three-hour shift beginning at 6:30 in the morning.
When she was younger, Korterud spent three days a week at the church baking pies and the rest of the time in the booth at the State Fair selling the baked goods.
"I have been doing it every year. It's rather incredible isn't it," Korterud said. "I love my church."
Originally, the crew started at 5:30 a.m., according to Korterud, and baked as many as 125 pies per day. Over time, work efficiency has allowed them to shave about an hour off the schedule.
"If there's enough of us, it goes well," she said.
Being a baker for the past 57 years, Korterud said a lot of the tradition in flavoring and crusting the pies has been passed down to her from the previous generation of church ladies who baked and cooked at First Lutheran in the early days of Minot.
"When I was a young woman in my 30s, these women taught me what they knew," Korterud said. "They are all gone now."
Korterud likes to stay active in the church because she said that's what keeps her healthy. In addition to the pie-baking marathons each summer, she helps out with bazaars, and made quilts and taught Sunday School for 45 years.
What is Korterud's favorite pie?
"Peach! I like the flavor. We put almond flavoring in it and that gives it a great taste."
- Marvin Baker
The entire pie, start to finish, is done by hand and done locally. None of the work is farmed out, nor does any part of the pie, save the fruit, come from elsewhere.
As an example, one person mixes flour, four roll the dough, as many as four create the pie shells and at least one is filling the pies and covering them.
Enter sidewalk superintendent, the Rev. James Gustafson. With a cup of coffee in hand, he talks quietly with Larsen for a couple of minutes, then leaves the kitchen. Larsen quickly points and blurts out orders to keep everything running smoothly.
"It's quite a schedule," Larsen said. "It takes two to three weeks to set it up. There are six ovens going all the time."
According to Larsen, during the first few days of the fair, 55 pies were baked daily, but by Tuesday, she made a major adjustment, bumping the number up to 70.
Apparently, word spread quickly around the Fairgrounds about the First Luthern pies and volunteers in the booth between the midway and the grandstand sold out.
Larsen said she gets a call every night from someone working the booth to give her a heads up for the next day. Special orders are turned over to Larsen at that time as well.
"We use last year's statistics to find out where to start," Larsen said. "We take special orders, so it's a constant juggling act."
And with the flavors these women are baking, it's no wonder. Lemon, raisin, strawberry, apple, rhubarb, peach and others are all fresh every day for the fair-goer with the sweet tooth.
And you'd think that with the grueling schedule Larsen has established, she would have a hard time finding volunteers. She doesn't.
In fact, volunteer Marian Korterud has been preparing the popular dessert in some capacity since First Lutheran started this State Fair tradition in 1951.
"I have no difficulty getting people," Larsen said. "They are the best people in the world and they call in wanting to work. Once in a while someone will get sick, but that's rare. And we're mostly elderly. The young can't come. They're getting ready for work."
The one thing that might be difficult, however, is ordering the right amount of fruit, according to Larsen. In order to get the best-tasting pies, the fruit has to be ripe, but if too much fruit is ordered, it can become too ripe, rendering it useless.
Larsen said her staff is as concerned about taste and quality as the bottom line. She'll get the pies out there, but if they don't pass the taste test, they're not good enough to be sold at the State Fair.
The taste test is largely by individual ingredients; a crust, a filling, a shell. A little here, a little there. Volunteers can't really taste the pies because every one goes out the door.
"We don't sample them," Larsen said. "If there's any left, we will, but we haven't had any left."
At the end of the shift, when everyone is done with their chores, they clean up their areas and decide what to prepare for the next day.
"We started this in the early '50s and we're still doing it," Larsen said. "We have 16 people working every day for nine days."