The Tao of Pies

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been a sales girl since I was old enough to grasp the concept of selling. When I was 8 years old, I saw a hidden gem of opportunity while learning how to make tinder cups (fireplace starters) at Girl Guides, went home, and made a heap of them to sell door to door.

I innately knew people would need a cause to motivate them to buy, so I formed a club with two friends called “The Trio,” and came up with a pitch. I sold them for 5 cents each or 5 for 20 cents and made enough to keep us knee-deep in Old Dutch chips for the rest of the year at our little clandestine meetings discussing the latest Trixie Belden book or how to evade catechism classes.

When I was 20, I had the audacity to go to the bank for a $5000 loan with no co-signer and zero collateral to start a side business selling gold jewelry at home parties–and got it.

A few years later, the delicate jewelry trend dissipated and the chunky jewelry craze began, so I taught myself how to make customized clay jewelry to match any outfit (something with lurid designs and wondrously huge shoulder pads). That gig not only paid for numerous vacations, it covered the down payment on a house.

My dad was in sales and by osmosis, I learned attention to detail, diligence and the fine art of covering one’s ass, which one needs in sales. He certainly never suggested to me that I take on a challenging career in sales, I was just born promoting style. Friends and family will attest that I’ve had more ideas to sell stuff over the years than Edison’s attempts at the light bulb.

Motivation: Selling things = travel/freedom.

After my recovery, when my friend Lynn asked if I would be interested in working for the family’s berry farm at markets, I was befuddled. At the time I left the stationery industry, I was selling $3 million/year in pens alone. Pie sling at markets? Hmmmm …

But, when you dig in your heels and decide not to return to what you know best (and what pays you the most), you do things you never imagined.

First off, I was shocked at the pace these people worked at. I never dreamt so many pies could fly out of one place on any given day. And these pies are handmade from scratch with berries picked on their farm, not some assembly line chunks of cardboard.

I soon discovered that pies are not just a product or commodity, like other things I’d previously sold. They had soul.

Everyone comes to the booth happy. Pies make people smile. And nobody returns a well-made pie.

If someone stands off reluctantly, the owners have the good sense to know that the lure of a large sample is usually enough to turn the tables. Giving someone a pie sample has a remarkable similarity to good sex: first there’s a lot of moaning, then there’s the eyes rolling in the back of the head and next, a lot of “oh my Gods.”

Even the staunchest health nut is mesmerized by the fluffy, artistic swirl of meringue on the top of a deep-dish apple pie.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Peter, a wise and seasoned business coach I’d met serendipitously last summer. He asked what I’d been up to since last year. I gave him a litany of projects and mentioned the pie slinging gigs.

Peter works with CEOs of large corporations. He told me that he sometimes brings warm strawberry-rhubarb pies into boardrooms and how the sight and scent immediately shifts the energy in the room; shoulders relax, defensive stances dissolve, and smiles begin to form in anticipation.


Pies touch a part of our hearts. They have a beautiful simplicity and goodness.

They remind of us of our grandmother or a favorite aunt or of our own mother’s summer days of humming tunes in the kitchen, lovingly rolling out dough, stewing up heaps of fresh berries or slicing crisp apples. The delicious scent of cinnamon or hot, sweet berries reawakens a feeling of deep security.

The work that goes into a handmade pie brings with it old-fashioned values and a reminder of easier times. It’s like a breather from the zoom of modern day life.

I surprised myself one day at the beginning of June while pie selling in 5 degree gale force winds and rain. Even standing with my umbrella inside out, I was able to find the humor in where I am at right now and the crazy situations I find myself in.

(A scarf wrapped around my head, I thought I might be sporting a Grace Kelly, car-ride-in-the-wind look and instead discovered on a dash to the bathroom that I looked distinctly like a sorry-assed character directly out of Les Misérables. So much for meeting men at the market.)

The biggest gift of the pie is getting out of my head. No plotting, no trying to find solutions to my life’s riddles, no pressure or quotas, just standing on mother earth in the elements, chatting with happy people out looking for wholesome food for their loved ones.

The next time someone asks you to do something and your first thought is why in the hell would I do that?­–maybe give it a second thought and consider there might be a wee bit of joy, a new perspective or a shift in your section of the universe from trying the unknown or unlikely.

After my first 12-hour day of selling pies, I visited my friends’ berry farm. I observed the hive of activity in the bakery and shook my head wondering why in the world any couple would choose to work this hard, this intensely, day after day. But after experiencing the Tao of pies, I understand it just a little more.

(Hungry anyone?)


© Wanda St.Hilaire

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