One hundred and sixty-four pies. That is how many pies Kathy Ebnet’s mother, Helen Pomije, of New Prague, baked for this year’s Dollars for Scholars food stand at Chris’ Food Center held the second weekend in May. Last year it was 110. Pomije just turned 89. One would think she would be cutting back a little, but she says she does it for the students and to help her daughter.
The food stand embodies what is best about small town Minnesota — a collaborative win-win between a small business and community groups to provide a vehicle to raise funds for many good causes. Chris’ provides burgers, brats, hot dogs and the fixings at a discount, as well as a grill and venue for a Friday and Saturday, while the groups provide the manpower and that extra something for the sweet tooth. Which brings us back to the pies. Donated baked goods at the stand represent all profit to the group running the stand that week.
Ebnet, a teacher and drama director at East Central since 1974, is a founding board member for East Central Dollars for Scholars, a nonprofit that has been fundraising for scholarships for East Central students since 1994. The organization has distributed more than $680,000 in scholarships to about 500 students since that time. This year’s scholarships will be announced at Friday’s graduation ceremony. They are distributed to both East Central seniors and undergraduates.
Dollars for Scholars has operated the food stand at Chris’ since 2002. Proceeds from the stand pay the organization’s expenses of its phone-a-thon held the first weekend in December, as well as the costs of affiliation with Scholarship America, so that virtually all money raised during that event goes toward scholarships. The phone-a-thon involves students calling residents to ask for pledges towards scholarships, which is followed up with a mailing, and has taken place since the mid ‘90s.
Pomije has been baking for the food stand since it started. She started baking about 50 pies per year: rhubarb custard, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, peach, pecan and two kinds of apple. She begins in April, finishing just in time for the sale.
But how does one go about making 164 pies? First, be an expert baker with a lot of experience. Pomije said she began baking with her mother when she was about 12 years old. When she was a newlywed in 1948, she attempted to make a banana cream pie for her husband. The bananas were not ripe enough but her kind husband ate all the pie anyway. “No casualties since then,” Pomije said.
At 89 years old, she still bakes nearly every day — bars, cookies, pies, breads, crescent rolls, kolacky. For the holidays, Kathy said her mother bakes so much that she can send some baking home with each family member. And she bakes about 12 dozen cookies for the intermission of East Central’s theater productions. Kathy grew up enjoying her mother’s baked goods, and some of her favorites of her mother’s pies are pecan, rhubarb custard, apple, lemon meringue and frozen lemon. “Anything she touches,” she said.
Next comes the ingredients. She used to provide all the ingredients herself, but Kathy and her husband, Richard, started providing sugar, flour and some of the filling. Then about three or four years ago, the Lucky Leaf Company, through Chris’ Food Center, started to provide most of the pie filling, and some individuals in Sandstone began to donate some of the pie tins. She uses Butter Crisco in the crust.
She usually bakes pies nearly every day starting at 7 a.m. She bakes four in her downstairs oven and three in the upstairs oven, and is usually finished by 10 a.m. As soon as the pies are cool, they are put into zip-style plastic bags and stored in her freezer. She says she would like to make cream pies and lemon meringue for the stand but there are no coolers there.
“Then each weekend,” Kathy said, “Richard and I transport a couple of coolers full of pies from her freezer to ours in Sandstone. When our freezers are full we bring coolers of pies to Marv and Mary Ann Nelson’s freezer.” The Nelsons are also Dollars for Scholars board members.
Sometimes Pomije will also make several dozen kolacky, a fruit-filled pastry that is a part of the Czech heritage of many who settled in Le Sueur County. “But this year she didn’t have time,” Kathy said. She’s even made some for personal orders the last few years.
At the sale, the pies go fast. “This year we sold 110 pies on the first day and the other 54 the next day,” Kathy said.
Pomije said, “I’m glad the sale was a success and that all the pies are sold.”
This year the stand grossed $3,955, netting $3,133.