For sisters in Reynolds, N.D., raising funds for community is easy as pie
Jeannine Lazur will represent "the Pie Ladies" in the Home of Economy-Grand Forks Herald Pie Bake-off later this summer. She's sponsored by Harry's Steakhouse. All 16 contestants have been announced, with biographies of the other bakers to publish in the coming days.
REYNOLDS, N.D. – As youngsters, the Breidenbach sisters learned a thing or two about cooking, hard work and family.
To those classic Midwestern ingredients, they've added a sprinkle of business flair and a dash of interest in the pastry arts to raise more than $10,000 for charitable causes.
Jeannine Lazur, Rita Lang and Jo Noel annually bake dozens upon dozens of pies, using locally sourced apples, and donate the proceeds to community projects – the latest an ongoing effort to renovate the park in this town of approximately 300 residents, 25 miles south of Grand Forks.
In Reynolds, many simply know them as “the Pie Ladies.”
“We walk into the restaurant-bar and they’ll say, ‘oh, it’s the Pie Ladies,’ ” said Noel. “Some people will ask ‘why don’t you guys relax?’ But it’s fun and we can do it together.”
They sure do. Since about 2004 or before, the sisters have baked for all sorts of causes. It started with a cancer awareness event years ago (back then, they baked cookies), moved to a local church fundraiser and then morphed into a program to improve the local park and its infrastructure.
Their efforts really took off during the church fundraiser in 2016. After the flurry of work around that project, the sisters wondered: What next?
“Then my sisters got more interested for the group to raise money for the park shelter,” Lazur said. “They decided, ‘why don’t we make pies?’ ”
Apple pies are the specialty, using fruit gathered from their trees and donated by others. “All of a sudden, we get inundated with apples,” Lazur said.
“We make some others in the summer because good pie-making apples aren’t readily available,” she said. “But in the fall, we make apple pies – double-crust apple and caramel apple.”
Sometimes, they’ll make as many as 200, many of which are sold frozen as customers prepare for the holiday season.
According to Lang, the sisters saw “needs in the community.” Over the years, their pies have raised enough money to enlarge the park shelter and rebuild the shelter kitchen and bathrooms.
“We have a long list of improvements, with our next goal of planting trees on Main Street,” Lang said.
Meanwhile, proceeds will continue to pour into the park project – the bandstand needs work, after all.
“They’ve helped tremendously,” said David Scholand, recently elected mayor of Reynolds after serving eight years on the City Council. “They really do a great job of bringing people together. They’re awesome for the community.”
And as the former Breidenbach sisters are playing a key role in moving the park project forward with their cash donations, they’re also setting a good example. Scholand said many other people are volunteering, too.
“There’s a lot of donated time” going into the project, he said.
The sisters do their work via a time-tested, well-choreographed, pie-making waltz. According to Lang: “Jeannine is in charge of crusts and meringues and anything in between. Jo is the list maker, shopper, organizer, sales and advertising, oven runner or whatever needs to be done in prepping. I do shopping, advertising, making most of the fillings and a lot of prep.”
Word must be getting around, because the sisters received several nominations to be selected for the field of bakers for the Home of Economy-Grand Forks Herald Pie Bake-off, a tournament that seeks to highlight the best pie makers in Greater Grand Forks and beyond.
When the Herald determined that selecting all three might unfairly take up too many of the 16 available spots, the sisters decided to put Lazur forward as their representative. The tournament begins Aug. 22, with at least $1,000 available to the first-place winner. Home of Economy is offering the champion a choice of a $500 gift card or a pie safe, worth $1,400. The champion also will receive $500 from the Herald, in the name of the winner's business sponsor.
Lazur is sponsored by Harry’s Steakhouse, a downtown Grand Forks restaurant.
To see the other selected contestants and more information about the contest, click here . In the coming days, the Herald will begin publishing biographies of all of the contestants.
Just because Lazur’s specialty ingredient is apple, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to be baking one of the sisters’ trademark double-crust apple or caramel-apple pies for the Home of Economy-Herald contest. The calendar isn’t in her favor.
She’s not sure local apples will be ready in time for the contest’s first round, on Aug. 22. And store-bought apples just don’t seem to have the same pizzazz when baked, she said.
“They’re not bad, but there is something missing,” she said. “They just don’t make up the way I like them.”
That’s a culinary analysis that only comes with years of experience – a hands-on education that started back on the family farm, where there were 11 children and everyone did their part.
“When you have that many, you all pitch in,” Lazur said. “You just learn to do what needs to be done.”
Lazur, the sisters say, is a good choice to represent the group in the upcoming contest because of her crust handiwork. She first learned the technique from a baker who was once a guest on “Party Line,” a long-running daytime television program on Fargo TV station WDAY. (Who remembers longtime host Verna Newell and her trademark bouffant hairdo?)
Lazur took notes and fine-tuned the process over the years.
Whatever happens in the Home of Economy-Herald contest, the sisters will resume their team pie-baking – and fundraising – efforts this fall.
“We’ve all gotten older and retired and the city and park needs a lot of work,” Noel said. “And we can’t eat all these pies ourselves.”
Scholand, the town’s mayor, appreciates that kind of dedication to civic improvement.
“They do a tremendous job,” he said of Lang, Lazur and Noel. “They’re so involved in the park (project) and the community.
“They’re spark plugs – just great people.”