Good things come in small packages—and pie tins
by Susie Middleton
Blue-eyed and blue-aproned, Judi Worthington flitted up the stairs like Tinkerbell, with a rolling pin in one hand and a bowl of pears in the other. Small and lithe, Judi navigated the winding steps between her downstairs “production” kitchen and her “real” upstairs kitchen so gracefully that I could easily imagine her rollerblading down Beach Road—an activity, she told us, she loves almost as much as pie baking.
On this sunny Monday morning, photographer Elizabeth Cecil and I—stomachs growling—had come to watch Judi make a pear pie. In between baking carrot cakes for a wedding, packing to leave with her artist husband, Jules, for Greece in three days, and ushering her extensive collection of orchids inside for the season, Judi made time to welcome us into her art- and light-filled home in Chilmark. A little bird told us we’d better not miss this chance—as pies go, Judi’s are hard to beat.
For years, Judi sold her pies at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market. Back then, before she met Jules, she called herself Judi Gersh and her pie business Judi Gersh Made Last Night. She says this with an impish grin. “Sometimes they were still hot, but people were always asking when they were baked!” At first peach-blueberry pies (which nobody was making back in the early ’90s) were her claim to fame, but her peach-raspberry and strawberry-rhubarb got very popular, too. But it was the order for Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday party pies that still gets the biggest chuckle from Judi. “Guess what fruit he wanted? Cherries!” No matter the flavor, fans were (and still are) happy to pay a little more for Judi’s pies because of the quality. Her secrets are an all-butter pastry and a devotion to the freshest, best-quality fruits.
“I just make what I’d like to eat. I want to taste the fruit, so my pies aren’t too too sweet. I do like a splash of booze, though,” she told Elizabeth and me, as she fearlessly dangled a bottle of pear liqueur (the good stuff, Belle de Brillet) over a mixing bowl of juicy just-sliced Comice pears.
I scribbled notes furiously, trying to get Judi’s fall pear pie recipe down on paper as she added a splash (okay, several splashes) of maple syrup to the mix and crushed a handful of walnuts over the bowl. But I realized somewhere during the morning, watching Judi nimbly scallop the edges of her pie crust with her tiny fingers, that there is a tactile joy in Judi’s baking that’s hard to capture in a recipe. It starts with the supple feel of a plump ripe pear in the palm of the hand, travels the territory of a light dusting of flour smoothed across a scratchy wooden cutting board, and winds up with the confident brushing of egg-wash across the regal crown of a just-topped pie. Hardly necessary instructions, but clearly the recipe for an artist’s dream.