Pie: A Love of Local Savory Favorites
Ahh…Atlantic Coast cuisine. Lobster, littlenecks, and… “Clam pie? I don’t know about that. Are you sure?” my Phoenix pal asks. I can practically hear her wincing over the phone. “Isn’t pie supposed to be sweet?”
I kindly remind her that savory pies have been standard supper table fare through the ages and to bake perfectly seasoned clams inside a buttery crust is no stranger than serving up apple, pecan or chicken pot pie. I dare her to come to the Cape to taste just one forkful of the delightfully peppery dish—a long-time staple at Marion’s Pie Shop in Chatham—and not declare herself hooked forever.
Marion’s Pie Shop—in business since 1947 when Marion Matterson started selling pies from her kitchen window—is now owned and successfully operated by Cindy and Blake Stearns. Pie is their life and their passion and it shows.
Marion’s fell into the loving hands of the Stearns one late summer day in 2003 when Cindy walked into the pie shop she had frequented since she was a kid to purchase a favorite for her ailing father—blueberry pie. The current owner was ready to move on and Cindy knew then that Marion’s was meant to be hers.
“I think he led me in here…I just know my father led me in here. I have a lot of belief that this was all meant to be. Marion’s was meant to be ours.”
Cindy and Blake are loyal to Marion’s original recipes and are having lots of success with new additions to the menu. Marion’s original pumpkin pie—only available seasonally—is a big hit, with more than 1,000 pies baked and sold each season. A summer favorite is a newer and luscious combination of berries called Baileyberry Pie, after the Stearns’ German shepherd. “It’s cute—people can’t remember the name of the pie but they’ll come in and ask for dog pie. It’s become our signature pie.”
And what’s Cindy’s savory fave?
“Well, our seafood pie is very popular.” She says, “It used to be just for special occasions but we sell a lot of it now. But we can’t take the credit. How can you not like lobster, scallops, shrimp and cod in sherry cream sauce?” Good question, indeed!
The earliest pies, traced back to ancient Egypt, were known as galettes and were not much different from the rustic, French dessert we know today. With a spot of honey wrapped inside a hand-held crust made from oats, wheat, rye and barley, travelers were assured a sweet, nutritious fix on the go.
As knowledge about milling and baking made its way to Ancient Greece and word traveled throughout Europe, the growing use of salt and spices to preserve meat helped the humble galette evolve to contain meat, cheese and egg, making reliable nourishment for sailors on long journeys. These hand-held pockets were meant for individual consumption and portability. The crust—not the flaky, delectable, mouthwatering kind that comes to mind—was mostly functional. It served as a sturdy encasement that protected the inner filling from damage or spoiling. Flaky, fruit-filled varieties called pies—perhaps after the magpie, a bird known for collecting and hoarding things in small places—did not become popular until the early nineteenth century as homesteaders modified recipes for growing families. As the practice of pie making spanned the globe, so did it give birth to regional varieties.
The practice of baking meat into pies was a handy way of stretching what little meat was available during lean times. The making of pie crust requires less flour than a loaf of bread and, when making a potpie, leftover scraps of poultry or meat could be stretched with gravy and vegetables. This hearty dish became a North American staple and is now a classic, cold weather comfort food. Centerville Pie Company uses a full pound of chicken in each chicken pie they bake, and at Marion’s you can order yours with veggies or without. Either option, served with a rich and flavorful side of gravy, promises to satisfy.
One of the most commonly known pies in North America was born in the countryside of England and Ireland where sheep were plentiful and potatoes more abundant than wheat flour. Traditionally baked without a bottom crust, shepherd’s pie may be made with beef instead of lamb and often includes hearty vegetables such as carrots, peas and onions. It’s typically topped with a thick layer of mashed potatoes, which, when baked, acquires a delightfully toasty crust. A variation of this, cottage pie, is so named because it was originally topped with thinly sliced potatoes resembling the shingled roof of a humble countryside cottage. The cooks at Marion’s Pie Shop serve up a Shepherd’s Pie that is abundant with kernels of sweet corn and a creamy white sauce with a peppery kick. Made with homemade mashed potatoes and their classic, hand-fluted crust, it’s a rich and hearty belly warmer for a chilly day. “We sell out of it every single day.” Cindy says.
Considered quintessentially French, quiche actually originated in Alsace-Lorraine, Germany. The dish we now call quiche Lorraine—a custardy version with bacon, no vegetables—was born in this region. As the dish evolved, so did its variations. Served on china with a salad and a glass of wine, quiche makes a perfect and elegant light supper. Or, for people on the go, quiche may be a hand-held snack bought for a few Euros in sidewalk cafés throughout Paris. Cape Cup in Orleans offers a scrumptious selection of quiche, including mushroom quiche, squash-tomato quiche (their most popular variety) and seafood quiche. Each slice is a generous fourth of an eight-inch pie and is served with a fresh side salad.
Last but not least, is my favorite—clam pie. Marion’s version is a mouthwatering creation with just the right amount of fresh, tender local sea clams, creamy white sauce and herbs to make me long for the next piece even as I’m savoring my first. “My husband chops those clams by hand…everything is by hand. Every single crust is fluted by our little fingers,” says Cindy. “We work very hard but it’s a great life. We’re at peace doing this.”
“I get it now,” my pal from Arizona mumbles, pie crust on her lips, “I take back what I said about clams and pie not going together.” She’s rolling her eyes and reaching for more.
Good thing bathing suit season is a long way off.
Marion’s Pie Shop
2022 Main Street, Route 28, Chatham
Open nearly year round with a winter break between
December 24 and January 31.
Hours change with the seasons.
54 Main Street, Orleans
Open Monday-Saturday 7 A.M.-3 P.M.; Sunday 7 A.M.-noon
Centerville Pie Company
1671 Falmouth Road, Route 28, Centerville
Open Monday through Saturday from 7 A.M.-6 P.M.
Aline Lindemann is a health and food writer living in Phoenix who revels in her Eastham summers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.