“I hope there’s pie for breakfast, Neighbor Stone.”
-The Devil and Daniel Webster
Pies have never been a small part of Braham’s social scene. They are social currency in the town of 1,800, where a gathering of any size has traditionally called for pie. To make an exemplary pie is a badge of honor in Braham.
After her retirement, Braham native Phyllis Londgren found time to put her hometown on the map for its achievements in pie, and so posed this question to Governor Rudy Perpich in 1989: “Why not make Braham the Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota?” Perpich, in one of his more judicious moves as governor, made Braham exactly that.
In honor of that distinction, the town of Braham now holds Pie Day on the first Friday of every August. For it they close down Main Street, line it up and down with tents, and celebrate the finest dessert ever created. Preparing for Pie Day is no small feat. It takes 200 volunteers, four days, a quarter ton of flour, 200 pounds of lard, and 30 gallons of rhubarb to make the pies to satisfy the crowd that descends upon Braham on Pie Day.
You can eat 33 kinds of pie at Pie Day. (Fruit, rather than custard, is Braham’s preferred filling, as custard reacts poorly to the outdoors in summertime.) Buying slices of pie for experimentation, and entire pies as an investment in the future, is one of the greatest summer excursions you can embark upon, and doing it in a merry little place like Braham only makes it sweeter.
You needn’t only eat pie to celebrate it at Pie Day. You can also listen to songs about it. The Pie Alluia Chorus performs their repertoire of pie-themed chorales every year, including locally composed classics such as “If I Only Had Some Pie,” “When I Eat Pie,” and “Fruit Filling.” “We think famous English composer George Frideric Handel would be pleased as pie,” claims Joni Nelson, the chorus director.
Pie Day features the greatest contest of athleticism that can involve pie: the pie eating contest. There contestants will vie to engulf an entire chocolate pudding and Cool Whip pie first. “We used to use blueberry,” said Tish Carlson, Pie Day committee member, “but we stopped after someone got a blueberry stuck up their nose.” Kids and adults each have their own matches, as do specially selected members of the Braham community. Those ambassadors are licensed to challenge neighboring communities’ personages to the pie eating contest, thus making Braham an important diplomatic hub in Isanti and Kanabec counties.
The Braham Area Committee for Kids officiates the pie baking contest. Nearly 50 pies are entered into the tournament, with awards for best baked single crust, double crust, and fresh fruit and/or cream, but only one grand champion. Whether anyone can dethrone Judy Olson after her lauded bourbon brown butter pecan pie last year has the whole town fraught with anticipation. The less ephemeral pies are auctioned off after judgement, and can fetch as much as $600! The winner in that case was probably more concerned with philanthropy than dessert, as all money raised at the pie auction goes toward providing sports fields for Braham’s children.
Pie is Pie Day’s focus, but there is far more to enjoy at the party. There you can see the small quilt show, another fierce contest with last year’s viewer’s choice award given to Dolly Brown. The town that finds itself with so many leftover pie tins has found a way to make the best of the situation with their recycled pie tin art contest. Freedom Park is filled by 100 local craft vendors, and The North Country Hillbillys present the Sweet as Pie Car Show, at which more than 100 local enthusiasts show off their classic vehicles.
And the day goes, and the band plays on, and everyone eats pie. If you would like to celebrate Pie Day this year, then mark Friday, August 6th on your calendar in anticipation of your trip to Braham. You can learn more about the festivities at pieday.com.
By David Scheller