At age 9, she knows what apple pie tastes like. In fact, her palate is partial to pumpkin. But before Sept. 11, Mystique Evans never made a pie.

“We usually buy them,” she told your Catholic Herald.

That’s why she and her sister Deja, 12, were among 15 children who learned how to make a homemade apple pie at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Milwaukee – from crust to filling – during “Pies Be With You,” a free pie-making class for kids ages 9-14 led by Mark Seaman, an award-winning sugar artist and cake stylist from Chicago.

The idea developed during Seaman’s first visit to the parish last year with his friend Paul Detaege, a former Capuchin Franciscan who knew and worked with the pastor, Capuchin Franciscan Fr. Mike Bertram. Fr. Bertram said Seaman was taken by the ministry, the site, the history and the people.

“Mark said, ‘I want to do something for you,’” Fr. Bertram recalled in a phone interview with your Catholic Herald about how they brainstormed and thought of the idea for a class. “He said, ‘I question how many children and really, for that matter, even how many adults have mastered the art of bakery. We’ve just gotten to be such a fast food society that how many people really take the time to prepare something really homemade, really healthy and really good?’”

piesbwituClick on the “Pies Be With You” logo to view the audio-visual presentation of this story.‘Therapeutic, hands-on ­experience’

Detaege, a psychotherapist who works with children, often on issues of obesity and eating disorders, and adults in therapy and is involved in school social work, worked in Seaman’s bakeries before he closed them to teach and travel. Detaege said the children would benefit from making a homemade dessert in several ways, besides it being therapeutic and a hands-on experience, which kids love.

“What I like especially is that the children are going to learn something nutritional,” he said, explaining that they’re using real apples and not buying canned apples in heavy syrup. “It’s better to make something of your own than to have it already pre-made for you – no preservatives and things like that, so they’re actually learning, you know, a nutritional way to eat something sweet.”

Della Gossett, a chef instructor at the French Pastry School in Chicago where Seaman also teaches, and Allie Howard, who worked as an intern at the school under Seaman before returning to Milwaukee to work at the Pfister Hotel earlier this year, assisted Seaman on the trip to help set up, measure ingredients and assist the kids.

“I love how you did your hat,” Seaman said to Mystique, who was waiting at her seat in the professional chef hat she had decorated with red, purple and green markers. “Are you an artist?”

Mystique’s curiosity kept her occupied as she waited for other children to finish their hats and find seats.

“Are we going to have to cut the apples?” she asked, pointing to the seven apples sitting at her place. “Why do we need pencils?” “What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a white, Styrofoam bowl heaping with flour and salt – the carefully measured and neatly placed ingredients, all donated by Lena’s Food Store in Milwaukee, that sat at each child’s place at tables lining the room in a u-shape around Seaman at the front.

Seaman used to teaching professionals

While Fr. Bertram ran to the store for a few extra pie plates for the kids who forgot to bring them from home, Seaman started the two-hour class, instructing the kids to pour the heaping bowl of flour and salt into their large bowls. He showed them how to mix the shortening into the ingredients using two knives like scissors. Seaman explained each step, showing the kids before they copied his actions at their seats.

“It’s fun for me because I’m used to teaching professionals, cake decorators or people who are on the road to becoming professional pastry chefs,” Seaman told your Catholic Herald as he continued to mix the ingredients in his bowl. “So, this is just more relaxed. It’s more enjoyable. It still takes lots of planning and organization and all of that, but it’s just a way to have a good time and be surrounded by a group of good people.”

Adrian-Javier Lucena-Martinez, 12, worked to mix the dough with the water he was instructed to add a teaspoon at a time. He looked forward to taking the pie home to his family and was excited to eat it, too.

“I just hope they like it,” he said in an interview with your Catholic Herald.

Susan Martinez-Lucena, Adrian’s mom, volunteered to chaperone for the day and stood on the other side of the table as Adrian worked to form the two “snowballs” Seaman instructed that would be flattened and chilled in the fridge for the pie crusts.

“He loves being in the kitchen baking,” Susan told your Catholic Herald. “He always wants to do cookies or wants to do something with me in the kitchen, so I thought this was the perfect thing for him and he was excited all week.”

More boys than girls

Fr. Bertram said he was surprised that more boys signed up than girls, but Seaman said that many great cooks and pastry chefs in the world are men, so Adrian’s excitement wasn’t uncommon.

“(Susan) said he was so excited about this, he said, ‘Ma, I’ve got to have all new utensils. …,’” Fr. Bertram said. “(They) bought a new rolling pin, a new melon baller, a new bowl, a new dish … so he’s got all new equipment.”

Fr. Bertram hopes that in addition to the pie that the kids take home, they will also leave with a sense of confidence in themselves.

“I wonder if they’ve ever tackled anything as complicated as a pie,” he said. “I don’t know that I would have in my grade school years, and for them to be able to say, ‘Look at what I made,’ and the whole sense of confidence and achievement and to really boost their self-worth and say, ‘You know, I can do this.’”

Susan hopes that Adrian learns how to calm down through the process of baking the pie. “This is showing him just calm down, things are not going to be done right away, and to share,” she said.

Ellen O’Brien, 63, a member of St. Francis of Assisi who sings in the choir, was a volunteer chaperone for the event.

“I like the idea of the outreach that it’s providing,” O’Brien said. “It’s getting families together on something positive, and I really enjoy looking (at) and watching that process.”

Lennie Mosley, parishioner and choir member who helped secure the donation of ingredients, volunteered for similar reasons.

“It’s such (an) interactive event today,” she said. “It shows the camaraderie, the willingness to help each other and … put down the cell phones, put down the iPads and whatever, get away from the TV. It is something to bring our children together and we need more of this – we really do.”

Event brought families together

That’s why Sofia Camacho was thankful that she could bring her 9-year-old son Steven to the pie-making class – because they could catch up and do something out of the ordinary in their weekly schedule of chores, work and homework.

“Fr. Mike is the best because he seems to bring more families together, which is what’s really cool about this parish because that’s what’s important,” Sofia said, explaining that while her 7-year-old son wanted to come, he was spending time with dad at home, “keeping families together and communicating and I don’t know if too many people do that anymore.”

Sofia, who usually has her sister bake pies and cakes, said the day was a good learning experience for both her and Steven.

“I’m a terrible cook. I’m a terrible baker – my husband does all the cooking, so it was time for one of us to learn, right, Steven?” And she likes that it’s time together. “Instead of rushing to the (store), you know, frozen section and sticking (it) in the oven, no, you’re spending time together and dedication on completing a task for a good outcome.”

Sofia also hopes that Steven learns how to share, but more than just the seven slices they would cut from the pie to share with family.

“I’m hoping that he knows that he can share whatever he produces with maybe someone that doesn’t cook or maybe like a grandma or grandpa or someone from church … or someone that might not have anything,” she said.

At the clanging of metal cooking utensils – the method of silencing the room before each step – Seaman told the kids that it’s important to “always be careful when working in the kitchen,” so Howard could demonstrate how to safely peel the apples.

“Take your time, go slow – it’s not a race – that’s probably the most important thing with this,” she said as she explained to drag the peeler from top to bottom, keeping their fingers clear of the blades to prevent cuts.

Off to the kitchen!

With about two pounds of apples per child cut and sliced, the kids added the final ingredients to the mixture that would be cooked on the stove for the filling. Then it was off to the kitchen! They huddled around the stove, where the assistant chefs mixed the apples, murmuring “Mmm that smells good.”

Seaman explained how to get the right consistency so that the filling doesn’t leak out of the pie, and shared a tip that spread smiles across even the adults’ faces – that filling is great on ice cream.

Back at their work stations, the kids prepared to put the filling in, each taking two plates from the front table where the chefs were dishing it out. Seaman instructed everyone to cut vents into the top of the pie to let the steam escape.

“This is like so professional looking,” Seaman said to one of the girls as he lightly brushed an egg wash over the edges and across the top to give it a shiny, golden-brown hue when baked.

“My first pie I ever made,” Jazlin Sawyer, 11, said as she posed for a photo, holding her pie that was ready to be taken home and baked or put in the freezer for Thanksgiving.

The kids lined up for a group photo – smiling with their pies – and grabbing their things to leave as Seaman made an announcement: “We have some good news – we have some extra pie filling that you can take home and put on your ice cream.”

“It’s so fun to see all these kids that I don’t think have ever made a pie and they’re all excited to go home and start doing it with their families and, to me, that’s just very gratifying,” Seaman said.

Will he return to teach another class in a year?

“Oh, we’ll be back,” Seaman said. “And I don’t think we’ll wait a year.”