Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pies and Politics in Lexington, Michigan

Navy veteran, Mary Salmonowicz has been selling pies from her home in Lexington, near the shore of Lake Huron, for 22 years. When you walk into her small kitchen, the smell of fresh baking compels you to breathe deeply. But before you can enter, a hand-made sign grabs your eye.

Next to a picture of President Bush, a wordy, but direct message:
“Iraq Security ‘We can take care of ourselves.’
Iraq’s government said on Friday morning we’re taking a month break from our duties because it’s too hot. Mr. President, bring our troops home now. Iraq doesn’t need us. They don’t want us. We need our troops here. Quit playing with our military and our life and our money just because you can. Grow up.”

Her Dutch apple, cherry crumb and red raspberry pies with their light, flaky crust entice customers who disagree with her politics. “If people don’t like my sign, they just come in, get their pie and leave,”she said.

61-year-old Salmonowicz began her pie business after leaving nursing. “I just jumped in and did it. I had no idea what I was getting into.” Within ten days of quitting her job, she set up a separate kitchen at the back of her house, obtained licensing from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and started baking.

She had been a visiting nurse for private agencies, but became disillusioned as profit grew more important than quality of care. “The agency would receive a specific amount per case. If you closed the case before all the money was spent, that extra money went to the agency. There was a pressure to rush, get the patient done and get out of there.”

She tried a return to nursing five years ago, but found the demands on her time crowded the pie business. She keeps her nursing license current and imagines a kind of nursing that would emphasize patient comfort. “I would start a new type of nursing–comfort nursing. If patients are comfortable, truly cared for, and someone listens to them, they are happy. They heal faster.”

Caring for people motivates Salmonowicz’s pie baking. “I do this because I love to please people. If it pays the bills that’s all I ask.” Her customers come in for conversation as much as pie. “Sometimes I feel like bartender,”she said.

With her retirement approaching, she is making an instructional DVD of her pie making technique for her customers, and perhaps a broader audience. “A lot of people have told me they’re going to be unhappy when I retire, so I decided to make this DVD.“

This summer, Salmonowicz’s business seemed a bit slower. She says fewer visitors are coming up from metro-Detroit and attributes this to the shrinking auto industry and high gas prices. “People are selling their cottages because they have to, not because they want to,”she said.

Fortunately, her business does not depend solely on tourism. In the fall, winter and spring she bakes sirloin pasties, which she boasts “are better than anything over the bridge.” The Mackinac Bridge, that is.

Located at 5846 Lakeshore Rd. (M25) her hours are: Friday 11-4 p.m., Saturday 11-3:30 p.m. and Sunday 11-4 p.m.