Fruit pies to shame grandma

It was a sweltering June day, a record 98 degrees. But that didn't keep Jennifer Verrill Faddoul out of the kitchen. She put in her usual 12-hour day cooking and baking at Verrill Farm, her family's farm stand in Concord, Mass.

Hot days are good for business because no one wants to cook. And on this particular day, her takeout dinners were selling well. But her baked goods, especially her award-winning pies, were hotter than ever.

"People don't know what a homemade pie tastes like," she says, so they clamor when they find one. Each day's selection depends on what's just been harvested on the 200-acre farm, land used for dairy cows until 1990 when her family converted it to produce. Rhubarb was the specialty on this day. The pie case was stocked with not only the traditional strawberry-rhubarb pie, but also rhubarb with raspberries and rhubarb "jumble" (mixed berries). Nectarine-blueberry, pecan, and Key lime pies also shared the shelves.

Ms. Verrill Faddoul will probably always bake classics such as apple, pecan, and strawberry-rhubarb, but she prefers to experiment with more unusual combinations. Last year, she tried plum-apricot. The year before that, blueberry-rhubarb. They sold just as well, she reports. Her other signature is a crumb topping that put off customers at first. Then they tasted it, and haven't grumbled since. In fact, her pies consistently draw raves - and awards.

She has won Boston Magazine's "Best of Boston" award twice, as well as first prize at Taste of the Town, an annual cooking extravaganza west of Boston that's judged by top chefs.

It used to be that Verrill Faddoul made only about 12 pies a day. That was when she and her parents, Steve and Joan, were selling at local farm stands. But since 1995, when they hunkered down at their own just-winterized stand with a full-service kitchen, that number has risen to 25 to 100 pies daily. First thing in the morning, the phone starts ringing with orders. She's added a full-time baker to her staff of four. The busiest holiday, of course, is Thanksgiving. "It's wild," she says. "Last year, we baked over 1,000 pies."

With Father's Day coming, sales are also expected to be brisk. Laughing, she points to her pregnant belly, and says, "Someday, I'll get some help from this one!"

In the meantime, she'll do just fine. When she worked at Legal Sea Foods in Boston, it wasn't unusual for Verrill Faddoul to make 1,200 shortcake biscuits each day. Like many bakers, however, Verrill Faddoul got her best training at Mom's Cooking School. And today, when hiring help, she looks for a genuine love of baking more than a cooking-school degree.

Nonetheless, as of this week, Verrill Faddoul has both - the love and the degree. She just spent five days at the cole de Cuisine de la Varenne in Burgundy, France. Mom, Dad, and her fans are eager to taste the results.

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