According to Vickie Hardin Woods, “if you’re going to give a gift, [a pie] is about the right gift.”
“If you give something that is too valuable, then the person feels obliged to give something back,” she said. “But you also want it to have enough effort and value” to show that you care.
Two years ago Woods was inspired to perfect the gift of giving, one day at a time, with a little help from her oven. Over the course of a 365-day period, beginning with a lemon meringue, she baked one fresh pie each day from scratch and delivered it, unsolicited, to friends, neighbors and eventually even complete strangers. She gained notoriety in local news by photographing each pie and its smiling, occasionally disoriented recipient as part of her blog.
For her TEDx talk, Woods will discuss how surprising people with pie gave her both a deeper understanding of community, and insight into her own sense of purpose after retiring from a 30-year career in local government.
A pie-a-day blog – Seems daunting, but is it really? Here are some key ingredients, and tips to make yours a smash hit at your next random encounter…
What you would need:
Break the ice. “That was on many days the hardest thing I had to do,” she said, “to find somebody, and then approach them and give them the pie.” It’s important to establish a connection, even if it’s brief, she said.
“You can’t just walk up to a stranger and say, ‘Here’s a pie.’ You have to build some sort of relationship, no matter how short it is.”
Some were more receptive than others, she said. Sometimes small talk would not be enough for a skeptical stranger; more often than not, though, Woods’ pie pitch would find a willing participant.
“There’s something about breaking through that barrier,” she said. “I don’t know how many times I had people say to me, ‘This is the best thing that’s happened to me today!”
Failures happen. “Usually if [a pie] didn’t turn out, I figured it was me, not the pie,” Woods said. She remembered a particular pecan pie she tried to show off at a cooking class she was taking at Carl’s Cuisine on Chemeketa St. In a hurry, she had failed to give the pie enough time to set. “I opened up the carrier and there’s this gooey mess all over the bottom.”
Blend until ingredients come together. Woods sees pie giving as “less as gratitude than just a gift, free of all encumbrances, grace,” she said. It took roughly a month to work up the nerve to approach her first stranger, she said. But the reward of making people happy made the challenge worthwhile for her.
“I got the satisfaction of knowing that I touched someone’s life,” she said.
For Woods, pie provided structure to a life in transition. It forced her to get out into the world. And in handing home-baked goodness to people sometimes far from their home, she brought the world a little closer to hers.
“Each pie is its own journey,” she said, from her kitchen to points unknown, and the stories told and experienced in between.
“That’s what life is about, our stories.”
– To see Vickie Hardin Woods and other TEDx Salem 2015 speakers, get your tickets here.