The Pie Lady of Pie Town

For most people, an impulse buy is a pair of shoes or a piece of jewelry. In Kathy Knapp’s case, it was a café. Knapp, the Pie Lady of Pie Town, was driving though the somewhat remote NM town of Pie Town with her mother and some other family members in the mid 1990s. They came upon an old decrepit trading post with a sign that said “There used to be pie in Pie Town, but there ain’t no more — FOR SALE”. So, she bought it.

Kathy Knapp the Pie Lady of Pie Town photo Steve Collins

Kathy Knapp checking the pies in the Rosemont’s kitchen to see if they’re done photo/SteveCollins

We’ve been wanting to visit Pie Town to visit the Pie-O-Neer Café  since we heard about it years ago but it’s a 3½ hour ride from Santa Fe and just too darned far for a day trip. Luckily, Knapp brought her pie making talent to Santa Fe. She set up in Dick and Jane Rosemont’s kitchen and baked a heck of a lot of pies. There were lots of varieties including peach, apple, pecan/oat, chocolate chess, blueberry and pear/ginger and a bunch of people to taste them.

Award winning photographer Jane Rosemont, and her husband Dick are working on their first fiim, Pie Lady of Pie Town,  a documentary film about Knapp, her Pie-O-Neer Café and the people who travel there for a piece of pie and a cup of joe. The afternoon, at their home, was a fund-raiser for the film where people could meet the Pie Lady and taste her wares.

Pietown's Pie Lady Kathy Knapp with Cherry Pie

Pietown’s Pie Lady Kathy Knapp with Cherry Pie, photo/Steve Collins

The film

In 2006, the Rosemont’s met Knapp on a visit to the Very Large Array. Jane Rosemont spotted Pie Town on a map for sale in the gift shop. She asked the clerk what was in Pie Town. The straight-faced reply was, “Pie.” And off they went. They tried both of the town’s pie cafes and immediately had a rapport with Knapp. But, Knapp is that kind of woman. Many people feel that way about her. It’s probably one of the things that keep people coming back. The Rosemonts said they’d be back; it took six years.

Birth of a film at the Pie-O-Neef Cafe photo Jane Rosemont

Dewey from Michigan in a booth at the Pie-O-Neer with Kathy Knapp/ Photo/Jame Rosemont

In 2012, during another visit to southern New Mexico, they stopped back at the café.  They were with Dewey, a visiting friend from Michigan. “When she [Knapp] left the table,” Rosemont wrote in an email, “I said to Dewey that I thought she’d make a great subject of a short film. He agreed and kept goading me about it that day. He was the instigator, gave me ideas and kept the idea fresh in my head.” And Pie Lady of Pie Town was born. Here’s a teaser for the film narrated by NM-based actor, Wes Studi.

“Dick and Jane [and their crew] are flies on the wall,” said Knapp, “catching these little slices of everyone else’s life.” Continuing, she said, “It’s is not about me. It’s about the vehicle that connects all the people who come all that way to have something homemade from Pie Town.”

She loves working with the Rosemonts. “They are consummate artists through and through. They know what to get, what not to get, when to stay still and when to move.” Bottom line, she trusts them.

The Pie :Lady of Pie Town film crew photo/Steev Collins

The film crew: Tristan Love, Kathy Knapp, Dick Rosemont, Jane Rosemont, Luke Fitch, Marti Mills photo/Steve Collins

Pie Town

Pie Town, sitting on the Continental Divide, is a town, according to Knapp, of about 60 people. “People have each other’s backs,” she said. Sitting on the Continental Divide, it’s on on a road that dust bowl refuges took to flee westward from Oklahoma. The town motto is, “On the Great Divide it’s all downhill from here”. People have been making pies here since the 1920s. When the town got a post office in 1927 it needed a name. A local cowboy reportedly said, “Why not call it Pie Town – that’s what we call it.” The US Postal Service didn’t like the name but it stuck.

Today snowbirds heading south and others making their way east or west on Highway 60 pass by and often stop for pie. Knapp says that people have been going in and out of the pie business here for years. There are lots of repeat customers coming back a tasty slice of pie.

Mary Mundan, Kathy's mom photo Pie-O-Neer Cafe

Mary Mundan, Kathy’s mom, courtesy Pie-O-Neer Cafe

Kathy Knapp and the Pie-O-Neer Café

Meeting Kathy Knapp is like encountering a force of nature. She’s bright, vivacious, articulate, and funny. She often speaks with her hands. She spoke to us about how the café came to be, what it’s like now and of course, pie.

These days the Pie-O-Neer is almost exclusively about pie. There used to be food, lots of it. Knapp bought the café for her mother, Mary Munden, who wanted to “put the pie back in Pie Town”. Mundan, the former owner of the Cozy Corner Café in Rochelle, Illinois with her mother, had, according to Knapp “pie DNA in her bones”. She set up a full comfort food. Mundan turned out three meals a day. Then her health declined and she needed to be on oxygen to breathe at that altitude. The day Knapp found her mom with oxygen on and her head in the oven, she said, enough and moved her mom back to sea level. It was 1998.

Filmmaker Jane Fabian Rosemont and Pie Lady, Kathy Knapp photo Steve Collins

Jane Fabian Rosemont and Kathy Knapp smile over pies photo/Steve Collins

And then Knapp panicked. “I didn’t know how to bake pie,” she confessed. So, she ran away. She came back and went to work learning the art of pie baking. There were lots of phone calls to her mother, but Knapp learned and became an incredibly good pie maker. Her friends and neighbors pitched in and helped.

Then, in 2001 when her daughter decided to leave and go back to school Knapp ran away again.. This time she lucked out, A stop at his cafe at his bed and breakfast in Mogollon she met Stan King her current partner, over a mean blackberry pie he’d baked. They are still together.

She went back to her café and simplified. The food went. Today they serve pie. If you want a bite to eat, they server vegetarian spinach quiche and green chile stew, but that’s it.

Do you have a favorite kind of pie? Call ahead and Kathy Knapp will make if for you. Check if she’s open (they are there seasonally – check the website — from Thursday through Sunday. The Pie-O-Neer Café’s bumper sticker says it all:

Pie-O-Neer-Cafe bumper sticker photo Steve Collins

The Pie-O-Neer-Cafe bumper sticker says it all photo/Steve Collins

Want to bake one of Kathy Knapp’s pies? You can!  James Beard Award-winning cookbook authors generously shared Pie-O-Neer’s recipe for Pecan-Oat Pie. We tasted it yesterday and it’s delicious!

Pecan-Oat Pie

(From Tasting New Mexico, (c) 2012 Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, Museum of New Mexico Press)

The most legendary American-style pie in New Mexico is probably the apple pie with a buttery hard sauce served at Santa Fe’s Pink Adobe restaurant for more than half a century. The most legendary place to eat pie, though, is Pie Town, a hamlet sitting high on the Continental Divide in west central New Mexico’s Catron County. The town moniker started as a nickname back in the 1920s, when the first in a series of pie bakers settled there, but it stuck officially once the U. S. Postal Service came to town. When Kathy Knapp passed through in 1995 looking for pie, no one was upholding the long baking legacy. She chose to stay and opened the Pie-o-Neer, so popular now that folks often refer to Highway 60 through town as Pie-way 60. Among Kathy’s many scrumptious offerings is this blend of New Mexico pecans with oats, which cuts the pie’s characteristic sweetness a bit while enhancing the nutty crunch. Until Kathy suggested that it’s nearly as easy to make two pies as just one, the idea of such a pie largess never occurred to us. Freeze the second for up to a month, or send home slices with friends. Believe us, you’ll find something to do with it. We suggest our superbly flaky lard-and-butter crust for this, but use any pie shell that you like.

Makes 2 pies

Pie Crusts
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, well-chilled, cut in small cubes
½ cup lard, well-chilled
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

¾ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup light Karo Syrup
1 cup dark Karo Syrup or cane syrup
6 large eggs
1 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
2 cups toasted pecan pieces
Toasted pecan halves

For two pie crusts:
Pour flour and salt into a food processor and pulse together. Scatter the butter over the flour and pulse quickly several more times, just enough to submerge the butter. Scatter spoonfuls of lard over the flour-butter mixture and pulse again quickly several more times until it disappears into the flour too. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons of water, pulse again, then add 3 more tablespoons of water and pulse once more.

Dump the mixture onto a pastry board. Lightly rub the dough with your fingers. If it doesn’t yet hold together when you compact it with your fingers, add another tablespoon or 2 of water, as needed. Pat the dough together lightly, divide it in half, and pat each half into a fat disk. Wrap each half of the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the first chilled dough disk on a floured surface into a thin round an inch or two larger than the pie pan. Arrange crust in a greased pie pan, avoiding stretching it. Crimp the edge, then refrigerate it for as least 15 additional minutes. Repeat with the second crust.

For the filling and pie:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Cream sugar and butter in a mixer over medium speed until the sugar has dissolved. Add the spices and salt and mix well. Stop the mixer and pour in both syrups. Mix at medium-low speed. Add the eggs, one at a time. Stop the mixer and stir in oats by hand.

Scatter half of the pecan pieces in the bottom of each pie shell. Pour ½ of the filling into each pie shell, arranging pecan halves on top as you wish. Bake for 45 minutes, then check to see if the pies still jiggle at the center. If they have more than a very slight movement, bake them a few more minutes. Do not over bake. The pies will set up as they cool.

Let the pies cool for at least one hour before slicing into wedges and serving.



6 Responses to “The Pie Lady of Pie Town”

  1. Kathy R. Knapp
    September 24, 2019 at 7:44 pm #

    WOW! That’s a heck of a nice article, Billie…thanks! It was great meeting you and Steve and solving a couple of the world’s problems over a slice, er, several slices of pie. I am humbled and grateful for the recognition, but especially delighted you gave my mom, Mary Munden, the credit she deserves. She knew in her pie bones that if you baked a decent pie, in a town called Pie Town, it would work…BUT, she said “You have to serve it w/a smile” 🙂

    I am honored to be a pie muse for Dick & Jane Rosemont. They make me want to keep spreading the pie love, one slice at a time.

    • Billie Frank
      September 24, 2019 at 7:58 pm #

      Your mom was a BIG part of the story. I would have loved to have met her and tried a few slices of pie after some chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy. We’ll have to have another slice of pie- there are still a few unsolved problems out there. Hasta luego!

  2. Karen Denison, Outspire Hiking & Snowshoeing
    September 27, 2019 at 6:51 pm #

    Yum! What should I do first? Try the recipe, or make a road trip?

    • Billie Frank
      September 27, 2019 at 9:38 pm #

      Definitely the road trip! The Pie-O-Neer is open seasonally- they take a break mid-winter. You can bake the pie anytime. If you can’t get away, the light the oven.

  3. Steve Hart
    July 5, 2019 at 1:40 pm #

    Love your logo, do you have logoed t shirts for sale?

    • Billie Frank
      July 5, 2019 at 4:22 pm #

      Thinking you mean the Pieoneer Cafe logo T. Give them a call- I heard on high authority that they have them for sale.

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