WHO: Cheryl Michaelsen
WHAT: Founding member of Historic Inns of Rockland, innkeeper and second-generation pie maker. Organizer of Pies on Parade.
WHY: It started as a way to boost tourism on the Midcoast during the shoulder season. Ten years later, Pies on Parade is a full-blown pie palooza
WHEN: On Sunday, Jan. 26, scores of people will eat their way through downtown Rockland one pie at a time. Inns, cafes, museums and shops present pies from lemon meringue to cottage pie to artichoke and spinach pie for your delectation.
We asked Cheryl Michaelsen to prep us for the moveable feast without getting pie-eyed. The owner of the Berry Manor Inn, where guests are greeted with a slice of blueberry pie, knows her stuff and her crust.
How did you come up with the idea of a pie tour?
We were trying to think of something to put heads in our beds in Rockland. Pie appeals to men and women. We scheduled it on the off weekend when there is no football game.
Is pie making a comeback? It seems very retro.
Pie is old fashioned, people just don’t make pies in normal life. They do it for holidays at home around Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s a really great treat. Scones don’t have the same appeal. Same with cakes and waffles. It just really works for us.
You can sample 45 different pies on this tour. How does one tackle such a largess?
The true professional pie-goers will plan strategies. You have 7.2 minutes per place if you want to try each one. And people do it.
Some are on a mission. They come and say, ‘we are hitting it all.’ If you want to hit all the places in three hours, don’t go for the sugar at first. You have to balance it with the savory so you don’t hit the sugarwall.
Any other tips?
You need to dress in layers and stretch pants. Baggy pants with elastic bands and layers to accommodate going in and out of different locations. That way you can sample and share and try it all and not get weighed down. Bring water bottles. Remember to smile. Eating pie is helping a great cause. One hundred percent of ticket sales go to the Area Interfaith Outreach food pantry, which also helps with fuel assistance.
Your bed and breakfast, the Berry Manor Inn, is all about pies. Do guests get a pie at check-in?
We like them to check in first, but sometimes they don’t make it that far. We have two guest pantry areas, and pie is available 24 hours. Our primary pies are blueberry, raspberry and cherry. There have been some interesting stories. Guests have sold pies to other guests when they ran out in the carriage house.
Yes. One time we had separate people staying at the carriage house and the main house. They had finished the pie at the carriage house and wanted more. Their friends sold them their pieces. They were taking ownership of the pies.
What did you think?
I wanted a cut.
What lead you down the pie path?
When we opened, we were a startup. We had always offered guests evening sweets. Cookies and cakes, cupcakes or pies. It can be a challenge when you are traveling. At an off-time, you feel like eating, and there is no food around. From the beginning, our parents were helpful with the inn. Our parents are pie makers. My husband and I keep baking them, and the guys love them.
What is the essence of a good pie?
It’s a little personal. Some people care more about the filing than the crust. Some people are most afraid of making the crust. A lot of people are really afraid of pie crusts. My mother taught me not to be afraid. I don’t treat it with kid gloves. You don’t need fancy equipment. If it’s not in the right shape, I add to it.
What is it about pies that keeps guests coming back for more?
You can have five people make one and they will all be different. It’s as unique as every b and b. It really is a comfort food. It says homemade, it says home. It says welcome. Mass produced pies are not the same.
Do pies and hospitality go hand in hand?
For us they do. Part of hospitality is making people feel welcome, comfortable and at home. People walk into our inn, they kick off their shoes. They make some tea, cut some pie, they kick back and relax. When they raid the pantry in the middle of the night, they are at grandmas, in their bathrobe having pie.
Are pies good for tourism? Yes. We have 600 tickets and less than 60 are left. We are going to sell out. It’s January on a Sunday afternoon. We will flood downtown Rockland with happy pie-goers. Tasting pies at 26 locations, to me that’s good for tourism.
How has the Pies on Parade tour evolved?
It was just for inns at the beginning. We were recognized two years ago by the Brookings Institute and GrowSmart Maine as a tourism industry on how to succeed. Throughout the downtown, many inns were showing a decrease, and our inns held their own. Our pie events sold out. We’ve always tried to look at the bigger picture and make a better experience for our guests.
What part of the tour makes you most proud?
One hundred percent of everything we make goes to the local food pantry. And that’s for food and emergency fuel money. They donate time and product. It’s costing us a lot of money. We do that to bring people here. It’s the community helping the community. The people that come are happy. People that eat pie are happy.
Pies on Parade is 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26. Tickets are $25. Call 596-6611 to make a reservation.