By Mike LAWLER
A few years ago, when my third daughter Annie was obsessed with cooking, we indulged her passion with a few cooking classes. She really did learn some lifelong skills, and isn’t afraid to whip up anything now that she’s a teen.
One of her more successful classes was in making pies under the guidance of a local woman, Penny Keaton, who runs a successful home-based business called Penny’s Pies. I caught up with her recently when I saw her and her husband Al at a booth at the Montrose Harvest Market. From her booth and a website, she sells a pie-making video and offers hands-on instructional classes in the very American art of pie making. “It’s all in the crust” is Penny’s mantra.
Penny was raised with pies, with her mom and three aunts filling the winter kitchen of her childhood home in New York with baked goods. From that base, Penny refined the secrets of a quick and easy, yet delicious, pie crust. But she didn’t realize she had something marketable until, on a whim in 2003, she entered a batch of her pies in the Los Angeles County Fair – and earned seven ribbons.
Sensing commercial possibilities, but not wanting the structure of a retail business, she began to teach small groups, two to four people typically. She employed various locations – in student’s homes, in commercial kitchens, and in small restaurants. Annie learned Penny’s pie crust secrets in a class she put on during the off-hours at a small restaurant in La Cañada. There were about six people in the class, including a husband and wife.
Penny tells me that she often has husband-wife and mother-daughter pair ups in her classes. She recommends it for school classes and Scout troops as well. Penny claims that baking together is a great way to cement a relationship; indeed, I remember that in the corporate world, many team building sessions were fashioned by putting entire departments to work in kitchens, with the end goal a sumptuous dish created with the cooperation of many hands. According to Penny, baking, and the resultant eating, creates a sense of well-being and can even promote peace. I couldn’t agree more. After a big serving of pie, there isn’t an aggressive bone in my body.
I asked Penny to give me some fun stories about her classes. One involves a local guy who married a Czech woman and now lives in Prague. Apparently the axiom of “as American as apple pie” is true, as the young man found his wife clueless in the pie department. On a recent trip to the U.S., he brought his new wife to Penny to learn to make American-style pie. With him as the translator and Penny doing the metric conversions, Penny successfully exported her American pie secrets. They recently sent her a photo of several of their “Thanksgiving” pies, along with a threat to open a pie shop in Prague.
Penny also told me about her former neighbor in La Cañada – and another of those hidden treasures of our valley – Dr. Richard Bing. Penny clued me into what an amazing man Dr. Bing is. One of those geniuses that does everything, Dr. Bing is a world-renowned cardiologist, scientist, musician, composer, poet and writer, who was head of experimental cardiology at Huntington Hospital, and has been a professor at both CalTech and USC. (I was blown away when I read his bio on the net!) Anyway, Dr. Bing recently honored Penny with a request for her cherry pies for his 100th birthday celebration.
Penny Keaton is another of those small mom-and-pop businesses that makes our community special – a friendly face in the world of commerce. She lives in Sparr Heights and can be reached via her website www.pennyspies.com, or by phone at 877-736-7743. Learn how to make a pie and the world will be a better place for you, your family, and your friends. Pies for peace … Amen!
Mike Lawler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org