hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture November 2019


Local fruit, hand-rolled crust

Family orchard’s true mission is making pies


Katie Daino works on making pies in the kitchen of Smith’s Orchard & Bake Shop in Charlton. Daino’s mother, Shelley Smith, started the orchard’s baking operation in 1999; now they turn out more than 100 pies on an average day. Joan K. Lentini photo


Katie Daino works on making pies in the kitchen of Smith’s Orchard & Bake Shop in Charlton. Daino’s mother, Shelley Smith, started the orchard’s baking operation in 1999; now they turn out more than 100 pies on an average day. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


At first glance, it looks like just another upstate dairy farm, with 200 milking cows settled in the barn.

But the white clapboard cottage at the front of the Smith farm bears a sign that suggests something slightly more magical than milk is being made. The wooden sign with the words “bake shop” hovers above the door to the cottage and beckons visitors from far and wide.

Dwarfed by two towering blue silos in the background, the white cottage is a veritable pie-making factory. Its retail space offers nearly two dozen varieties of pies – everything from apple cranberry walnut to cherry, raspberry peach, pumpkin, strawberry rhubarb and, of course, apple.

The farmstead bakery turns out dozens of pies every day, six days a week, year-round. At the helm of the operation is Shelley Smith, who started the bake shop in 1999, when a surplus of apples changed the course of her life.

The 300-acre farm and orchard has been in her husband Richard’s family since 1931. The family operated a dairy business until 2016, when they sold their milk herd and began leasing the property to dairy and beef cattle farmers. Richard and Shelley still oversee the apple orchard, which produces 2,000 bushels of each season.

“We’d sell a lot to IGA markets and other small grocery stores,” Shelley recalled. “Then they all slowly began going out of business, which left us with a glut of apples.”

So in the fall of 1999, when lots of apples ripened that had nowhere to go, Shelley set about baking pies, working out of her farmhouse kitchen at first. Business was slow in the beginning, but word began trickling out to the Saratoga County region and beyond, and sales have grown steadily ever since.

The bake shop at 4561 Jockey St., just north of Route 67 and about three miles west of Ballston Spa, is open for business at 9 a.m. every day but Tuesday. By 11 a.m., the flow of customers is steady.

One morning last month, a woman entered the store with a determined look on her face and made a path toward the table where the red and white cardboard boxes of pies were lined up. She scanned the varieties briefly, grabbed a box, and quickly headed to the cash register. As the sale was being rung up, she glanced at the tray of doughnuts next to the register.
“I think I’ll take a half-dozen cider doughnuts too,” the woman said with a grin.

“Someone’s going to be very happy,” Shelley responded with a smile as she handed the woman her change and thanked her for coming.


Shelley Smith says she learned the finer points of pie making from her husband’s grandmother. The family orchard’s bake shop now regularly produces nearly two dozen pie varieties. Joan K. Lentini photoComfort-food destination
In addition to 10- and 5-inch pies, the retail space carries its own line of condiments such as apple butter, barbecue sauce, jalapeno mustard, peach salsa, and creamy Vidalia salad dressing. There’s a meat cooler filled with short ribs, bottom roast, ground beef, brisket and other cuts from the farm’s beef cattle.


Shelley Smith says she learned the finer points of pie making from her husband’s grandmother. The family orchard’s bake shop now regularly produces nearly two dozen pie varieties. Joan K. Lentini photo

The farm store also offers pints of ice cream from The Ice Cream Man in Greenwich, bricks of 1000 Islands cheese, and a cabinet full of Smith’s Orchard preserves in more than a dozen fruit flavors.

The store’s foyer has baskets of apples, corn, tomatoes and other produce grown on the farm. The bake shop even pays homage to penny candy with a glass jar filled with 10-cent Tootsie Pops.

But the stars of the show are the pies, with Shelley’s cider donuts a close runner-up.
Many of the pies ($12 regular and $5.50 for small) are sold warm from the oven, and Shelley routinely instructs customers to keep the cooling pies as level as possible on the ride home. Loyal customers, many of whom buy three or more pies at a time, know to come armed with a checkbook or sufficient cash, because the shop doesn’t take credit cards.

“The pies are fantastic -- people come from all over for them,” said Sue Retersdorf, a longtime customer who drove over from the Fulton County town of Mayfield for a pecan pie. “One day I was in here, and a man from New Hampshire walked in and bought 12 pies.”

Another customer was mulling over a special order for the upcoming holidays and showed visible delight when she noticed mince pie was an option.

“I have a very special mince recipe,” Shelley said. “It’s made with Northern Spy apples and Bosc pears that are cooked down in cider with five different spices. I always say when it’s cooking that it should be a candle.”


Family tradition
Before Shelley was thrown headlong into running her own bakery, she had gradually honed her craft for many years, mainly for holidays and family gatherings. She said she learned some of the finer points of pie-making from Richard’s grandmother, Emily Smith, who spent much of her life baking pies to feed the hungry farmhands who worked for them.

“It was like an apprenticeship learning from her,” Shelley remembered. “She could turn any fruit into a pie.”

And even though Smith’s bake shop produces hundreds of pies each week, Shelley insists on keeping the old-fashioned methods she learned from Emily Smith.

“Every pie crust is hand-rolled, and all fruit fillings are hand-mixed,” she said. And thanks to finding a distributor who flash-freezes local fruits, varieties such as blueberry, raspberry and rhubarb pies are available year-round.

As demand grew over the years, so did the number of staff needed to keep up with both the flow of walk-in customers and area restaurants and specialty food stores who sell or serve the pies. Depending on the time of year, there are often six apron-clad women in the cottage’s industrial-sized kitchen doing everything from cooking down fruit fillings and rolling out pie dough to making sure the dozens of pies baking in the five commercial-sized ovens are on their way to even perfection.

When she started 20 years ago, Shelley recalled, “I baked 10 to 20 pies a week and thought I was busy.”

Some of the staff members who’ve been added had previous pie-baking experience, but Shelley said it’s not a requirement.

“Pie crust takes practice to get right,” she said. “The temperature and humidity play a part in getting the same consistency throughout the crust.

“But we do end up eating our mistakes,” she added with a chuckle.
Out in the garage, large wooden crates the size of a compact car are filled with apples waiting to be inspected by workers who’ll either deem them pie-worthy or place them in a pile for livestock feed. Throughout the day, bushels of apples will be cored and peeled, with the refuse added to the pile for the livestock.

“We have 20 swine on the property, and they love apples,” Shelley said.

A slow day at Smith’s bake shop will result in 100 pies being baked. On a busier day, upwards of 400 will come out of the ovens.

“At holiday time, I always say it takes a village,” Shelley said. “Sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles all help out with everything from food prep to folding cardboard pie boxes.”


The next generation
Shelley’s daughter, Katie Daino, knows a thing or two about helping with the pie business.
“Mom started her pie-baking business when I was a baby, but I began helping when I was 13,” she said, carrying a small stack of freshly baked pies to the display table. “Pie baking is second nature to me now, and no two days are the same. I love doing something that makes other people happy.”

Shelley agreed there’s an undeniable happiness factor that’s attached to the concept of homemade pies, which has made it virtually bulletproof against changing food trends.
“When so many people were going low-carb or low-sugar, it never affected business,” she said. “Pies bring back a lot of family memories for people. They’re the ultimate comfort food.”
And with no signs of slowing down, Shelley, Katie, and the rest of the crew now have added weddings to their to-do list. They recently delivered a batch of pies to New Hampshire for a wedding and made a delivery of 15 dozen cider donuts to The Sagamore Resort in Bolton Landing for table favors at a wedding.

“Suddenly,” Shelley said with a smile, “pies are very in vogue for weddings.”
Which is fine by the Smiths.

“I love that our pies make so many people happy,” Shelley said. “And there’s something very satisfying about taking a basic raw ingredient, like our apples, and turning them into something special.”


For more information on Smith’s Orchard & Bake Shop, visit www.smithspieshop.com or call 518-882-6598.