My name is Benny Ellis. I am a 75-year-old male who believes in what churches can do for the community as well as the world community. I make pies and donate proceeds from the pies to my church, National Avenue Christian Church (NACC). I am blessed because it is an activity, which fits well into the proximity of my primary role; I am a caregiver to my wife, Beverly, of 54 years who has MS. She and I have been members of NACC since 1966. Proceeds from my pie sales go toward justice projects to help the community. Many of the funds have helped Springfield’s Rare Breed Youth Services, an organization that provides a safe place, food, hygiene items, and community for street-dependent youth. I have been doing this since 2014. Before then, beginning around 2010, I made a few pies for the women’s Church Bake Sale.
I make about 20 different kinds of pies; many varieties of fruit pies, but also raisin, pecan, chocolate pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. I kept record of the number of pies made in 2016. The total for the year was 600 pies! Of these, the regular sized pie numbered 535, and mini pies comprised the other 65. I charge $10 for the big pie and $5 for the little.
I am asked often how I started making pies. Many times my answer has been, “I really am not sure!” I have not been a long time cook. My mother (deceased) and wife (disabled with MS) were excellent cooks; there was no need for me to cook anything. I remember most of my life listening quietly as women would talk about preparation of food. I specifically remember them talking about the difficulty of making pies because the crust is always a challenge. Twenty-five or thirty years ago I accepted the challenge to make a pie. It turned out near perfect and my thoughts were, “Why are these women making such a fuss!” The second pie I made gave me much difficulty. The end of that endeavor was completed when I threw the crust into the trash!
The women’s fellowship group at NACC was a group I admired and loved for what they did. I wanted to help them financially. My Mother was part of that group after moving to Springfield in 1982. She was a hard worker at NACC. She joked that she could get in her car and sleep because the car knew the destination. So, I had the motivation to make pies whenever the ladies were having a bake sale. These sales occurred not more than three times a year.
Mother died in 2009, and my motivation increased to love and help this group. I passed a portion of her estate immediately to the church for renovation of the kitchen, plus yearly stipends to DWF for a period of twenty years.
Never did I make pies with my mother or wife. I remember our son Robert coming to our house wherein we made pies for practice. I can remember Beverly saying after listening to us, “I don’t know when I have been so entertained!” That reminds me also of what else Beverly would say to me when I became upset in the kitchen, “Benny!! I don’t think Betty Crocker said that!”
I cannot remember the type of crust I made at the beginning; however, I have one now, which came to me in 2012. I will never change. I have a close friend whose wife, Bonnie, is a wonderful cook. She gave me an oil pie crust recipe of which she has used since 1964. The recipe uses 2 cups flour, ½ cup canola oil, 4 ounces cold water, and a heaping ¼ teaspoon of salt. This makes one large crust. Allow 10 minutes rest time after final kneading. God bless you, Bonnie!
How does he do it?!
My weekday routine of starting my day shortly after 4am works well for my pie baking. Instead of going to the gym I can have 8+ pies done or at least in the oven before beginning my morning care giving activities for my wife at 8:30am. I like making no more than 10 pies per day. I had 60 pies promised at Christmas over a five-day period; I started one day early to save my sanity! I am still recovering from once making 20 in one day!!
I am able to rotate the pies in an ordinary oven so 4 can be baking simultaneously- it saves worrying about the burning of the crust. Pie making is so time-consuming (50 minutes or so to prepare two pies); I rarely, if ever, wait for oven space. Thirty-three minutes up and 23 minutes down in my oven for all the pies except pecan. I have a custom made aluminum pizza spatula to move the pies up and down, and in and out of the oven.
I have basically three locations for presale of the pies; hair salons, gym, and the church, and some other sites on occasion. I have been acquainted and intertwined with many hair salons for a long period, as Beverly has her hair done weekly. Stylists can raise the interest of pies among their clients; they are great sales people! My wonderful masseuse, Haven, once ordered seven pies of which she shared with clients, staff, friends, and family, and other orders spring boarded from that. One lady who tasted a chocolate pecan gave me $70 from which she gave seven friends one coupon each for Christmas wherein they can order a prepaid pie from me. (Hint! Hint!) Even gym participants compromise their excellent bodies to buy my pies!
Of course, NACC does everything possible to promote sales of my pies. They advertise in weekly bulletins. During worship in the segment called “Life of the Church,” members are informed and encouraged to buy pies. One church bulletin used the words, “world famous pies!”
I want to continue making “Pies for Justice” as my age, back, and care giving situations allow. This task is very rewarding for me. “There’s the Pie Guy, The Pie Man, Benny’s Minis!” Music to my ears!
All of the proceeds after I purchase my ingredients goes to the church. It’s a win, win situation. All connected are rewarded. Church missions, those receiving care, and a good feeling for the buyer to know their money for the pie is going for a great cause. So, here’s pie in your face!
Thanks to National Avenue Christian Church
co-pastor Jenn Simmons for sharing Benny's story!