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There are multiple reasons to exit I-25 in Socorro and head west on U.S. Highway 60: to hike or bike from the highest point on the Continental Divide Trail, ponder the vastness of the universe at the Very Large Array (VLA) observatory, or simply enjoy a less-hurried alternative to Highway 40.
Ask any pie lover, though, and they will tell you that “PieWay 60” is the road to Pie Town, a must-visit destination in the quest for America’s beloved dessert.
Settled by Dust Bowlers in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Pie Town legendarily owes its name to Norman Smith, an enterprising miner and general store owner who baked pies for westbound travelers. Were it not for “Pie Lady” Kathy Knapp, however, Pie Town might have been left in the dust.
Kathy first visited Pie Town in 1995 on vacation from Dallas with her mother, Mary Munden. After making the three-hour drive from Albuquerque to taste its namesake treat, they were met with disappointment. The entire town consisted of a post office, a tax office, and the decrepit Thunderbird Trading Post. A sign on its frontier-style porch said it all: "There used to be pie in Pie Town, but there ain't no more — FOR SALE."
“My mom felt it was just wrong to have a place called Pie Town without pies,” says Kathy. And so they moved to Pie Town to rectify the situation, turning the trading post into the Pie-O-Neer. It didn’t take long for Mary’s traditional, home-style cooking and delicious pies to gain a loyal following. But, just three years after opening, Mary became ill and Kathy was faced with the daunting task of running the Pie-O-Neer alone.
“I knew I couldn’t do what she did,” recalls Kathy, whose dream was to be a photographer and open her own gallery. She left Pie Town for a few months of soul-searching, but soon realized she had already found her true destiny. “I missed the Pie-O-Neer so much,” she says. “But I knew I had to make some changes in order to make it work.”
Today, the Pie-O-Neer is open from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays from Pi Day (3/14) through Thanksgiving, and, other than a vegetarian spinach quiche and green chile stew, pies are the only food you will find on the menu.
Like her grandmother and mother, Kathy uses lard and butter to yield a tasty, flaky pie crust. “If someone’s a vegetarian and they call ahead, I can make a fruit or other kind of pie with Crisco, which is what I use for the spinach quiche,” she says. She keeps an index-card file of more than 100 pie varieties, basing each day’s choices on whatever fresh ingredients are on hand or what strikes her fancy. “Some days it’s coconut, some days it’s chocolate chess with chile and toasted almonds,” says Kathy. Pie-O-Neer’s best-seller is an apple cranberry crumble – tart and sweet, topped with oats and brown sugar. As fall approaches, people come from afar to taste her apple, green chile, and piñon pie.
To be sure your favorite kind of pie is available when you visit, it’s advisable to call ahead and Kathy will make it specially for you. A day’s notice is best, she says, adding, “but if I am pressed, I can make one in an hour.”
Kathy is already baking and freezing some 100 pies for Pie Town’s Annual Pie Festival this September. “I make pies ‘til the cows come home,” she says. “Pie Fest is New Mexico’s best-kept secret, and represents small-town America at its best, with fun for the whole family. People should come and experience it while they can, because it may not continue forever.”
September 6-7, 2019
Held on the second Saturday in September, This yearly festival is the ultimate event for pie lovers. It features a pie-baking contest, games and races, music, food, arts and crafts, entertainment, and plenty of pie. Admission is free and parking is easy.
5596 US-60, Pie Town
Lunch: Burgers, BBQ, deli sandwiches, home-made soups. Friday night dinner: Steak, shrimp, chicken, fish. Wide selection of pies. No credit cards. Friday - Monday, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Closed Wednesday and Thursday