Written by: Timothy Fitzgerald
09/09/2011 4:11 PM
Pie is comfort. Pie builds community. Pie heals. Beth Howard believes pie can change the world. She's put that theory to the test as she attempts to heal from the unexpected death of her 43 year old husband. She's packed up the RV her husband left behind and hit the American highways in search of the real healing powers of pie. We caught up with her to find out about her adventures.
CampingRoadTrip.com: In 2001 you quit a lucrative web-producing job to bake pies at a gourmet deli in Malibu, California. Why?
Beth Howard: Because I was working 80 hours a week and eating too many dinners from Styrofoam containers at my desk. My boss was trying to get us to create virtual worlds that were realistic, to make people think they could actually feel the salt water spray on their faces while watching a sailboat race on their computer. But, my mission was to get more people to spend less time on their computers, to get people to go outside and be active, to actually go sailing instead of just watching it on a computer monitor. So I quit. I wanted to go somewhere where I can smell something for real. I just wanted to do something with my hands.
How did you start baking pies?
A few weeks after I quit I went to a gourmet shop in Malibu that was known for its pie but when I arrived they didn't have pie. So I asked why. They said we're too busy to make them. And I blurted out, "Well I will make them for you." I started the next day.
You have been an avid camper all your life. How did you get into the RV lifestyle?
After 9/11 I took a road trip to San Francisco in a VW Beetle and met up with some friends who encouraged me to go to Bend, Oregon. As I was on my way I saw a sign for Crater Lake National Park. In a split second decision I decided to go to Crater Lake instead of going to Bend. And that's where I met my husband, Marcus.
Marcus and I got married in 2003 and I lived with him in Germany for two and a half years. When Marcus got transferred to Portland, Oregon he wanted to get an RV and I didn't. It was his dream to have an RV and drive around the US. At this point I was a tent camper - a hardcore one - and I was thinking RVing was too much of a suburban thing.
But I didn't want to stand in the way of his dream, so he got the RV, and we later moved to Mexico. It wasn't as easy driving down there as we thought. Some of the roads were in bad shape and we got pulled over a number of times just for having American plates. Marcus died suddenly and unexpectedly on August 19, 2009, right after his assignment finished in Mexico. He had left the RV in Portland, where I thought I would sell it.
What did you end up doing with the RV?
I decided I'd drive it down to L.A. instead of renting another vehicle. I did it because I was cheap, not for the adventure. I was having insomnia about driving it. Up until this point I had never driven the Beast (that's what I called it). When Marcus bought the RV I told him I'd clean the Beast and go along for the ride, but not drive it. I went for it [driving the Beast] and I was really proud of myself. I felt like it was a big part of the grieving process to tackle and overcome obstacles. I overcame my fear of driving the Beast. Now I can whip that thing around corners like nobody's business.
Was there anything in particular that helped you overcome your fear of driving the Beast?
Marcus had given me a CD entitled Relax and De-stress that I played over and over. That really helped me get through the drive.
So now you and the Beast get to L.A. What happens next?
When I got to L.A. one of my friends mentioned that she wanted to do a documentary about pie while traveling in the RV. She just so happened to love pies and had worked on MTV Road Rules. We hit the road for two weeks and decided our adventure could be made into a TV series. We toured throughout California, starting with Southern California and San Francisco. We went from Los Angeles to a town called Oak Glen, then San Francisco to Mission Pie, which teaches at-risk youth how to bake pies. We also interviewed a girl who delivers pie on her bike.
In Venice Beach we setup a table and gave away 400 free slices of pie to passersby. That was a momentous day for us. It was an ultimate feel good experience.
And now you're living in the American Gothic House?
Yes. I left the RV in L.A. and drove the Mini (car) to Iowa. On my drive I saw a sign for American Gothic House, and I came to look at the house, which was empty. I started asking questions. Why is it empty? Is it for rent? And now I'm still in Iowa. Still blogging.
What's it like to live in the American Gothic House?
I expected it to be very quiet and isolated. It's been quite the opposite. On Monday four couples came out of an RV and bought pies from my pie stand. I get a lot of passersby. You get traffic trickling in throughout the day. Sometimes people will peek in the windows. But honestly they're not that bad. It's a great way for me to meet people from all over the world. It's not stagnant. And that's just being at the house.
The town has 998 people, and so the locals were very excited to have someone living here because it's nicer to have someone live here. On the weekends I setup the Pitchfork Pie stand on the front lawn for tourists.
Why does the world need more pie?
Pie represents comfort and sharing. It builds community. People need pie. People are happy when they eat pie, and if people ate more pie the world would be a better, happier place. We're such a busy culture now that we don't take time to make our pie by hand. Pie is about spending less time on the computer and more time with each other.
What is the key to making a great pie?
Do not overwork the dough. Making dough doesn't take as much time as people think. Your best tools are your two hands and a rolling pin. Kneading it will make it tough. It's not bread, so just use a light touch - enough to moisten the dough and have it stick together.
What is your favorite pie?
I could answer that question differently on any given day. If I had to choose I'd say apple crumble. But I could spend an hour deciding which pie to have
Do you still have the RV? Any future travel plans?
Absolutely. I'd love to use it for RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). I'd also like to run a national pie tour with the RV.
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