Good byes, Good pies!

Around twenty years ago, we first visited Cape Cod in Massachusetts. With its beaches and history, it is a prime place for a family holiday, especially if relaxation is high on your agenda.

On our first visit we stayed in the charming town of Falmouth, but when we returned two years later, we chose the town of Chatham, in the elbow of the Cape, where it reaches out into the Atlantic.

Without a car, it was not the easiest location to reach, but, during our stay there, our long walks and discoveries helped us fall in love with the place.

It met all the stock images of small town America for a visitor from Europe: the white picket fences around shingled wooden houses, the evenings at the Cape Cod Baseball league at Veterans Field, all the community hoopla of the Fourth of July parade. To us, it was like Disney without the saccharin. You would not have been surprised if Jimmy Stewart had been sitting with a coffee outside the Chatham Cookware, Doris Day had been serving in the Penny Candy Store, or Lauren Bacall choosing a summer dress in the Black Dog.

Then, in a local tourist brochure, I saw an advertisement for “Marion’s Pie Shop”.

Paradise just got even more perfect!

Everybody knows that Scotland is big on pies – mostly of the savoury variety, but not averse to fruit filled versions either. Discussions on the pastry created by various bakeries can fill whole evenings, and grown men salivate at the thought of pies enjoyed in bygone days.

So, as much as we already loved Chatham, the potential for pies took the place up another notch!

I had discussed pies with our cousins on Long Island, who fondly remembered my emigrant uncle’s  Scottish based food choices, but, while they were comfortable with fruit pies and pumpkin pie, we struggled somewhat to describe our meat pies – even with emailed pictures and descriptions. Now, here we were in Chatham and there was a whole shop devoted to pies! Bring it on!

Luckily, the shop was based on Main Street. I was puzzled as to how I had not noticed it, normally having a fine nose for such establishments, but relieved we could walk to it and examine its products.

The address said: “2022 Main St, Chatham, on Route 28”.

More experienced American travellers would have noted that more carefully. In fact, I had a vague idea that America numbered houses differently – with reference to blocks as well as individual houses, so we set off confidently, expecting a short walk to the house of pies. “On Route 28” should have been another sign for caution.

Once we had passed through the roundabout (known there as a “Rotary”) we reached a stretch of Main St with various businesses. This looked promising. We carried on. The road was lined with more residential properties, but many were obviously used as offices for realty companies and the like. We kept walking. We passed the Chatham Highlander motel and noted how the area was becoming more rural, and after the Union Cemetery, the sidewalk was narrower and the buildings further apart. This was before the universal use of Google maps and smart phones, we headed onwards. Surely we would come to it soon?

I started to have some doubts. We liked walking, but had been on the road for over half an hour in maybe 90 degrees of heat – far above our comfort level in Scotland. Of course, we were also attracting some strange looks from passing motorists, and I realised we had seen nobody on foot since we passed through the Rotary – folk walk far less in the USA.

Finally, to the relief of wife and son, I stopped and suggested maybe our search for pies should be continued another day. When we turned back, we were outside the dentistry of Hamilton M Sporborg at 1118 Main St – a name still remembered in our household as the extremity of the Great Walk.

Sensibly, when we returned to Chatham two years later, we rented a car. This enabled us to stay at the wonderful Chatham Tides – an out of town,  self catering beach front property, reached down the well named Pleasant St, passing such crossroads as Aunt Deborah’s Lane and Melody Lane.

It was a beautiful spot and gave us a number of fabulous holiday stays, but, crucially, it was around a five minute drive from Marion’s Pie Shop. Driving in to town, it was not the sign that first attracted my attention, but a small building with a limited parking lot and a queue of people outside the door.

“There it is!” I said. “On our way back, we are calling in to get our dinner!”

It turned out that our original pilgrimage had reached around half way from town to Marion’s, making a round trip on foot of about three miles in midday summer heat! At least we had had the sense to stop when we did.

Coming back out to the Tides, I was aware that I had perhaps, er, overbaked, my expectations of Marion’s, and I prepared myself for slight disappointment. I had never actually seen a savoury pie in the USA, the reality might well not match my hopes.

It remained busy  with the parking lot full, and, as I approached the front door, I could see there was still a queue. I was also much taken by a friendly German Shepherd dog, who had to be living his best life at a Pie Shop!

When I finally entered the store, it was going like a fair. Two girls were working flat out in a tiny servery, and behind there was the hum of activity from the  baking area. It was clearly a well organised procedure and some of the customers around me had pre-ordered or obviously had a regular order.

I stood and took in the menu and looked at  the pies and cakes laid out on display. It was one of the few times in my life when I have actually stood with my mouth hanging open – literally as opposed to figuratively. The pies looked fantastic and the menu was overwhelming: there were chicken, beefsteak, hamburger, clam, seafood – in 6 or 9” sizes, and around two dozen kinds of fruit pies. I was aware that various cakes and cookies were also available but also that the queue was building and I had to come to a decision.

I chose the chicken, thanked the hard working staff profusely and wandered back to the car as if I had seen a vision.

It made for a wonderful meal back at the Tides, overlooking the bay, and it was delightful to discover that the anticipation had been worth it. Naturally, it was not the last visit to Marion’s and it remained a highlight of our Chatham holidays, which always featured car rental after that first experience!

I followed the Pie shop Facebook page and through the years discovered more about the business, and Cindy and Brad Stearns, the owners, and their ups and downs, triumphs and celebrations as a family. There was a warmth there which reflected the carefully made product and the pride shown in supplying townspeople and visitors alike.

Now, heading for a well deserved retirement, the family have put the business on the market. The hope is that it will continue in much the same way – a credit to the town and a beacon of high quality service. Started by Marion Matterson in 1947 – from her own kitchen, the business has become legendary in Chatham. Cindy reckons to have sold around half a million pies in the time she and Brad have been in charge – with around five thousand being sold each year around Thanksgiving. When you consider that Chatham is a town of around six thousand, rising to around thirty thousand over the summer, those figures are sharp indication of the popularity of the pies and other products.

As was obvious from the Facebook page, the legendary status of Marion’s is not limited to Cape Cod or even America. There are folk across the globe salivating at the thought of a chicken pot or  seafood pie or a key lime or Strawberry Rhubarb dessert from 2022 Main Street.

I wish Cindy and Brad a long and happy retirement. It is to be hoped that they recognise a family bakery in Cape Cod has proved not only successful as a business but has also become a key part of the holidays enjoyed by so many down the years in Chatham.

To spread such happiness and goodwill through one’s work is indeed a blessing.

I am sure I speak for folk in many countries when I say thank you guys – you made a difference and you brought a lot of joy  and satisfaction.

If only you could have done international shipping!!!

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Published by seánmcp

Former deputy headteacher; Edinburgh born Leitrim man; family man; writer, photographer and sports fan: cricket, football, GAA, athletics. Education & Welfare Officer at Hibernian FC; follow Hibs, Southport FC, Leitrim GAA, Dunedin Connollys GAA, Drumkeerin GAA, Cricket Scotland and Scottish Wildcats.

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