When you’re driving into Lexington, Michigan on M-25, you pass this house with a teeny wooden sign out front: “Mary’s Pie Shop: Ho’Made.” No store front, just a house. I loved it as soon as I saw it.
“That’s so cute,” I said to Daniel, my friend whose family has a cottage down the road.
“Have you been there? Who’s Mary?”
“She's so cool! But I think she’s retired,” he said. “They sell her DVD in the general store. It costs $100.”
It’s true. It does. It’s totally real.
The DVD sits in a glass case in the Lexington General Store, a two story shop that sells candy from the counter and has a room dedicated to Christmas ornaments, year-round.
“Mary’s Pie Shop Presents: Pie Making 101 ‘The Class.’ Featuring Mary the Pie Lady”
The four disc set cost $99.95. I took a picture that day, but didn’t shell out the cash. Instead, I went back home; sunny, sandy beach weekend over.
Mary’s pie DVD on my mind
When summer rolled into fall, I was still thinking about Mary and her hundred dollar DVD. What was in these pies? I finally just called the General Store and asked: Do people actually buy it?
"Oh yeah, it's like a seven hour class," the woman on the phone told me. "You really do every step with her and it isn't rushed."
“Seven hours of pie making?” I gaped. “I would love to interview her. Would she talk to me, do you think?”
“You know, she comes in every now and then to pick up money for the DVD. I’ll ask her.”
A few days later, Mary left me a voicemail:
“They called me up at the General Store and said you wanted to talk me. I’m not really sure why, but I’m calling you back.”
I wrote Mary’s number on a napkin and called back.
Mary Salmonowicz told me $99.95 is a fair price for a seven hour “master class” in pie making. People were always asking her how she made her crust, so she figured she’d just show them. She filmed and edited it all herself, even though she doesn't even own a computer.
How Mary came to open a pie store in her house
Salmonowicz was working as a nurse when she made her first pie as a favor to a friend. Her mom walked her through it, and when she realized how simple it was, she decided “that was it.”
Ten days later she opened her shop, and it was “just kind of a hit.”
Her secret? Keep it simple, she says. It really is “as easy as pie,” she kept telling me.
“You put in the crust, you fill it with sliced apples and sugar and cinnamon, how hard is that?”
Salmonowicz didn’t take a weekend off for 30 years, often working day and night during the holidays.
“I’d put three pies in the oven… and I would set my clock for 45 minutes and put it right on my shoulder,” she said. “And then when I’d wake up I’d go and make three more pies… and I’d set the clock for 45 minutes and go to sleep if I could.”
Many of her ingredients she picked up during trips to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a city she discovered on a weekend visit while in the Navy.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she said. “I found the farmer’s market there, the 200 year old farmer's market and when I opened the doors I couldn’t believe how awesome it was. It was all Amish people and the sights and the smells and the fresh flowers and bakeries and meat markets and butchers...”
She lived there almost 17 years, totally in love with the simplicity of Amish culture. To this day, she credits her pies’ successes to “the best ingredients” from Lancaster.
But for the upcoming holidays, the only way you’ll get a pie out of Salmonowicz is by baking along with the DVD. She retired at the end of June and “highly recommends it.”
“I wouldn’t change anything I did,” she says, “but I don’t think I’d want to do it again.”
I called Daniel after I talked to Mary.
“She missed out on everything, and nobody who bought her pies probably really appreciated how hard that work really is.”
“Wow,” he said, slowly. “You know, I feel kind of bad that I was complicit in that, you know?”
Daniel’s family had bought her pies, and he had never heard her full story - only bits and pieces.
“I don’t think you have to. She wasn’t resentful.”
And I wasn’t just saying that to make him feel better. She wasn’t. When I talked to her it seemed like it was the first time she had thought about the fact that nobody really knew how much work she put in to making the pies.
I still wonder about Mary, but it’s no longer about the $100 DVD. Instead, I wonder how she managed to bake through all those days without getting bitter.
A strong faith and good people, she said. It was just “a good people venture.”
If you have muffins or cookies for dessert, you just grab and go. But a pie is an event. Families stay at the table, cut slices, add ice cream, and keep talking.
“I did it because I loved what I was doing and I loved the response,” she said. “It made people happy.”