The tiny burg’s annual Pie Town Festival (pietownfestival.com) rolls around Saturday.
“Our population here is about 60 people, but on that one-day event, we get 3,000 people,” said Janine McMurtrey, owner of the Gatherin’ Place. “There are three pie shops (the Pie-O-Neer and the Pie Town Café are the other two) in town, and we all stay really busy making pies.”
Coupled with a boost in business over the Labor Day weekend, it’s an exceptionally busy time of year in the town southwest of Albuquerque.
“We make them by hand,” McMurtrey said of the pies. “The community, it does about 600 pies. I do the 6-inch pie, which they just went to as a community. They sold 600 pies last year. I’ll do, during Labor Day, about 200 to 250 and during the Pie Festival about 400 to 500 pies.”
The festival is in its 37th year after starting out as a town canning event.
It’s since grown into one of those old-fashioned, rural festivals that harks back to simpler times.
“The Pie Festival is such a fun and quirky New Mexico True gem that delivers history, comfort, and a unique culinary experience in one great road trip,” said Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham.
The town has been dedicated to pie since World War I veteran Clyde Norman settled in the area shortly after returning from Europe. Artist Russel Lee arrived in the 1940s to document rural life, drawing more attention to the community.
Lori Elliott, who runs the Pie Town Café, said the festival is simply a good, family time.
“We have vendors come in and sell things, a lavender vendor, people who do leather work,” she said. “They’re locals, and they represent their art.”
And it certainly wouldn’t be a pie festival without a pie-making contest.
“That’s a pretty big deal,” Elliott said. “The people who participate in that really appreciate winning, because there is pretty severe competition.”
Further, no pie festival is complete without a pie-eating contest, as well.
“The pie festival is a lot of fun, an old-fashioned festival, and the pie-eating contest is a hands-behind-the-back and face-in-the-pie thing,” McCurtrey said. “We have three-legged races, sack races, horny toad races. It’s a lot of old-fashioned fun.”
Several years ago, a 5-kilometer race was added to the mix, and it’s proved to be very popular, organizer J.J. Albion said.
“We’re on the Continental Divide, so the first half of the route you’re running downhill, and then it’s uphill all the way back,” she said. “Experienced runners say it’s one of the hardest courses they’ve ever run.”
Runners who finish get the satisfaction of knowing their entry fees are going to help local folks in need – as well as a little something extra.
“We started it to help bring in money for the Pie Town Fund that helps individuals in need,” Albion said. “It’s our indigent fund, so it helps with firewood, or people who need help buying medication or traveling to doctors’ appointments. And everybody who places gets a free slice of pie, so you’re running for pie. And who doesn’t like pie?”
There’s a certain charm to the town even when there is no festival, said Pete Clinch, a retired Albuquerque firefighter and soccer coach.
“People ask why we would go there, but my wife, Arlene, has a bucket list of small New Mexico towns all over the state and it was one of them and we made a start on it,” he said. “If you blink, you’ll miss it, but it absolutely has amazing pie.”
The Clinches couldn’t leave without trying the signature pie.
“A lot people just stop on the way through and pick up pies and take off,” he said. They make the small pies, enough for a really good helping for two. We had the New Mexico green chile pie, and it is absolutely to die for. It was fun. We both really enjoyed it.”