There’s a peach pie you can’t get anywhere but at the Winona Peach Festival in Hamilton, and if you’re not there on time, you can’t get it there either — they sell out that fast. Volunteers at Fifty United Church make over 1,800 of their legendary confections for the late-August event, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer.
The big 5-0
Fifty United has been supplying pies to the Winona Peach Festival since its early days as a street party. Today, the weekend festival attracts around 200,000 visitors a year. Pie preparation begins in April, when about 20 members and friends of the church gather to make pastry. In honour of the festival’s 50 years, this summer the top crust will be embossed with a moulded pastry “5” and a perforated peach-shaped “0.” The perforated “0” is “to let out the steam,” says veteran pie-maker Kathy Cushnie, who grew up on a fruit farm in Winona, Ont.
Pie output has steadily increased since 1996, when a local supermarket offered Fifty United the use of its bakery. Making 1,800 pies requires a lot of space — and peaches: 190 11-quart baskets, to be exact, all locally grown. The week of the festival, about 45 volunteers, ages seven to 90-plus, peel the peaches and prepare the filling over four mornings. Shifts for assembling and baking the pies run from 4 to 11 p.m. for three days. As many hands get to work, the air is suffused with the aroma of peaches. The secret to efficient peeling? “Practise,” says volunteer Helen Langlands with a smile.
Fifty United became the festival’s sole peach pie seller in 2015, when an Anglican congregation that had shared the vending rights opted out. “It’s a lot of work,” says Langlands of the pie-making, “but there are always conversations, and it’s fabulous socializing.”
The pies bring in $17,000 in profit for the church, with people driving to the festival from Toronto and beyond just to get their yearly fix. The church staggers the pie sales over the weekend, and the day’s allotment is generally gone by 2 p.m.
Oh look, the lineup’s starting. Can’t you just taste them?
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