August 8, 2022

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When the writer Nora Ephron knew she was dying, she wrote an essay on what...

When the writer Nora Ephron knew she was dying, she wrote an essay on what she’d miss most about being alive. Along with her husband and kids, pie made the list. 
Some of us feel that way about pie, especially homemade, with its flaky crusts, fruity fillings and knockout aromas. I’d venture to say Shelley Smith is one such pie-o-phile. She runs Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop, a little place with a big output that sits at the edge of a 300-acre farm in Charlton, just west of Ballston Spa.

How lucky are those of us in the Capital Region to have Smith’s Orchard right in our own backyard.Take a drive out to rural Jockey Street, and year-round, six days a week ( closed Tuesdays), freshly baked pie can be yours, warming your lap on the drive home.  

Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop has 20-plus varieties  to choose from, most with a choice of regular or crumb topping. Fruit pies come in several flavors — think apple, all kinds of berry, cherry, rhubarb and peach – with many combos. The shop also offers a few non-fruit options: pecan, pumpkin, Tollhouse and chocolate-peanut butter brownie. But it’s the apple pie at the orchard that’s made Smith’s a mainstay. 
The bake shop makes large (10-inch) and small (6-inch) sizes, will set anything aside for you with a phone call, and with 24-hour notice will bake any flavor in any size to order. And the pies are really good.

Year ’round, apple pie is the best seller, as is to be expected with 100 percent of the fruit coming straight from their orchard. “We keep the apples in cold storage so we can peel 12 months a year,” Smith said. “And then we feed the peels to the pigs so there’s no waste.” 
Yes, there are pigs on the Smith farm, and cows, too. The Holsteins are for milking (they produce 1,300 gallons a day) and the cattle and pigs stock the shop’s freezer case.  “Some of our customers buy half or whole animals, and we sell to a few restaurants,” Smith said, but most of the meat goes to their loyal customer base. There are new ones who wander in, more likely in search of pie. 
Though the Smiths don’t do the butchering themselves (they use a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse), the farm-to-plate footprint for their meat is considerably smaller than supermarket selections. From link sausages to Porterhouse steaks, the meat menu is considerable, with close to 40 cuts available. You can see the offerings online, then call ahead to see what they’ve got on a given day. 

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The zero-waste mentality — peel-to-trough — is trendy in modern farming and culinary circles, but the Smiths are just keeping on keeping on. Smith’s husband, Rick Smith, is the third generation of the farm’s leadership. His grandparents started the dairy farm and orchard in 1931. In the early 1990s, when the stores they sold apples to like the A&P and Chicago Market were disappearing, Shelley Smith started baking apple pies “to cope with the glut.” Thirty years later, the little-pie-shop-that-could now produces 70,000 pies a year. 
“From June through December we can barely bake enough to meet demand,” Smith said. But this time of year, she uses the  down time to be more engaged in the community, supporting fundraisers for the Boy Scouts, schools and the like.  

Some might say that the secret to Smith Orchard’s success is that the pies are pleasantly tart. “When I eat a pie, I want to taste the fruit, so we’re conscientious not to over-sweeten,” Smith said. She sources berries and rhubarb locally, when they’re in season and affordable, and from a Utica-based fruit distributor the rest of the year. Pies and cider doughnuts, baked daily, are piled in the Jockey Street Bake Shop that sits on the edge of the orchard. 

Smith’s seems poised to keep it all in the family for at least a fourth generation, with one of Rick and Shelley’s daughters, Katie Daino, formally in business with them. But given the size of the operation it takes additional employees to keep the pins rolling, and “labor  “is my number one challenge,” Smith said. If she’s lucky, the high school students she hires to bake with her will stay on through their college years. “But it’s physically demanding work,” she said. 
Even so, “I’ve had some wonderful young women — and the occasional young man — come through these doors, and right now I am blessed with a great staff.” Come Thanksgiving all family members pitch in: teachers, nurses and town councilors. Family time has its own special meaning for the Smiths at the holidays. 

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Smith’s Bake Shop is blessed with loyal customers, too, and for that Smith is grateful.
“To have customers who feel like friends, that’s the best part of being in this business.”

4561 Jockey St., Ballston Spa
518-882-6598; smithspieshop.com
Business hours:
Mon, Wed-Sat: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Sun: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.Closed Tuesdays

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