Baking to save America

  • Hand pies Margo Shea, of Greenfield, makes to raise money to promote voter turn out. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sliced apples for hand pies. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Margo Shea of Greenfield in her kitchen. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Margo Shea, of Greenfield, preps apples for her hand pies in her kitchen. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

For the Recorder
Published: 10/28/2020 8:47:01 AM

I have known Margo Shea since she was a little red-haired girl and I was a slightly older (well, maybe more than slightly older) brown-haired one. 

She and her husband, Matthew Barlow, live in Greenfield. Both are historians. Shea teaches (online these days) at Salem State University. She also cooks and bakes passionately. This Halloween, she is baking for a good cause. 

She has established a Facebook page called Bake Save America with Margo. Through it, she is accepting donations in exchange for delivering homemade food to family members and friends.

The funds raised will go to two election-related causes. Some will aid groups that encourage voter turnout. The rest will help congressional districts that face re-districting challenges.

Recently, I asked Shea how she came up with the idea for this project. She explained that when COVID-19 first struck, her friend, Stacey Zembrzycki, a Canadian historian, called to say, “Let’s start a cooking blog.”

They got in touch with friends around the world and established a blog titled Historians Cooking the Past. 

“It was a bunch of oral historians, friends of mine, who at the beginning of COVID realized that everyone was in their kitchen and noticed that people were almost immediately looking at family recipes and talking about comfort food,” Shea said. “People were connecting to each other through foods and cooking.”

The blog, which ran from March through July, featured a daily recipe and story.

The editorial team met via Zoom every Friday. One Friday in June, they began to discuss the killing of George Floyd and the need they felt to do something about it.

“One of our team members was just bashing a pile of dough (during the Zoom call),” Shea recalled. “We were like, ‘We want to knead dough with you.’”

The group decided to start a fundraiser called Bakers Against Racism, providing baked goods to family and friends in exchange for charitable donations. They raised almost $2,500.

“As I was trying to figure out how to keep sane over the weeks leading up to the election,” Shea said, “it occurred to me that I could do another bake sale.”

Bake Save America with Margo was born. 

Right now, she is busy preparing a variety of autumnal goodies to deliver to people throughout the area, among them pumpkin-chai tarts, vegetable soup, focaccia, marshmallows with smokey whiskey and apple-sage hand pies.

She will be delivering her wares through Nov. 2 and, of course, plans to don a costume for Halloween deliveries.

Shea feels a bit overwhelmed by the orders she has received, but she recommends this sort of project to others who love to bake and are looking for a way to help causes and bring joy to others.

“What I would say from my experience doing this is that people have a little bit of kitchen fatigue. They‘ve been baking their own recipes for themselves,” Shea said. “The novelty factor is the excitement of looking forward to something. COVID has robbed us of the pleasures of anticipation, the pleasures of planning.”

She added that she was pleased to observe how many people are ordering her wares as gifts for others: “It’s a way to show care that’s really simple.”

Shea traces her passion for cooking and baking to her mother and father, Bill and Janice Shea.

“My parents were deeply committed to food as a way of building community,” she enthused. “So I always grew up around food and people, and I always associated cooking together, baking together, and eating together as a thing that makes us healthy in mind, body, and spirit.”

She believes that her baking relates to her academic work, and not just because she involved students in the baking blog. “What I do in public history is about trying to find community from wherever we are,” she declared. “The baking blog and this project are just an extension of the same ethos.”

On a more practical note, the baking helps her with a household problem.

“If I’m stress baking all the time,” Margo said. “I can’t eat it all.”

Margo’s Apple, Cheddar and Sage Hand Pies

I made these as soon as Margo gave me the recipe. My pies didn’t come out perfectly; I couldn’t find my rolling pin and ended up with too little crust for the filling. This flaw made no difference. My neighbors and I gobbled them up!

I did have to reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit after a while; the higher temperature combined with my not very clean oven kept setting off the smoke alarm.

The salt, sugar, and cheese in the crust and the filling may be varied to taste. And if you prefer thyme to sage, you may use it instead.

For the pastry crust:

½ cup all-purpose flour (plus more as needed for rolling the dough)

½ cup whole-wheat flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

A handful of fresh sage, chopped

½ cup (1 stick) cold butter

3 tablespoons ice-cold water

½ cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

For the filling:

4 smallish apples 

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons sugar

Juice from ½ lemon

1 small bunch sage, chopped

5 slices red onion, quartered

6 solid slices of mature cheddar cheese

Begin by preparing the pastry. Mix together the dry ingredients and the herbs; then use a pastry blender, fork, or food processor to mix in the butter and the cheese until the mixture looks like cornmeal. 

Add cold water to your “crumbs," 1 tablespoon at a time, to form the dough. Separate the dough into six balls, wrap them in parchment paper, and freeze them for 10 minutes while you work on the filling. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare the filling, slice the apples and douse them with the lemon juice. Mix in the sugar and flour; then add the herbs and the onion slices.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into six rounds. Spoon the apple mixture into your dough rounds and top with a generous slice of cheddar. Fold the dough rounds in half over the filling, and pinch them shut. (Using a fork to tamp down the edges works well.)

Place the hand pies on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. Makes six hand pies.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


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