By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — As attendees of the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference earlier this year waded into the lunch crowd, they bellied up to the Gardner Pie Co. stand, where Paul Lesko was offering samples.
Lesko, company representative, explained its tagline is “Refreshingly Old Fashioned” and it makes pies like “you would make, if you had the time.”
The company is family-owned and started in 1945 in Akron, Ohio. It produces a variety of apple pies as well as berry pies, including blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, lemon blueberry, cherry, red raspberry, strawberry and strawberry rhubarb.
There’s also apricot, apricot-orange, peach, peach-blueberry, peach melba, peach praline, pineapple and pineapple upside down. Specialty pies include mince, pumpkin, raisin, Southern pecan, sweet potato and sweet potato crunch.
While there was a multitude of samples to choose from, Lesko said the customer favorite is apple. “Fresh apples are used in the apple pie, and they are our best seller; the second best is the apple caramel walnut pie … We also have several versions of cherry pie.
“We use natural sugars, the juice mixes with the sugars to create the fillings, and we have no artificial preservatives.”
Besides the traditional pie types, Gardner also sells Colonial Apple pies, which have the look of a turnover and what the company deems a “rustic look.” These Colonial pies weigh in at a whopping four pounds and feature Ida red apples.
Gardner pie dough is mixed in 200-pound quantities, Lesko said, keeping it small for a flaky crust. Gardner only makes pies and the fruit is never fully cooked until the pie is baked. All pies are shrink-wrapped before shipment.
“We buy Michigan cherries and a number of fruits from Michigan, like apples,” he added. “We buy Maine blueberries and California peaches. We generally go where the optimum crop would be.
“Pies have a huge emotional tie, especially for Americans. My grandpa came from Hungary and they taught him on the ship how to say, ‘cup of coffee’ and ‘apple pie’ because it was cheap and everybody had it – if you could say it, you wouldn’t starve.”
For more information about Gardner Pie, log onto the website at www.gardner pie.com