Betty Lou’s Pies and Cobblers received its name in honor of Betty Lou Smith, a wise woman full of loving kindness and mother to Roger, Dan, and Jennifer Smith. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Smith
Special to The Gardner News
Jennifer Smith remembers tugging a chair up to the stove when she was a little girl, to start making her first chocolate cream pie with her mother, Betty Lou Smith.
“I stirred and stirred and stirred, so it wouldn’t burn or clump up,” Jennifer said. “I still have the kitchen tools my Grandma used in the 1940s, and the rolling pin that my mom’s uncle whittled. My Grandma died in the 1950s in Kentucky, and I didn’t know her, but she was known for her pies, and I use her recipes, like my Mom did.”
Jennifer’s pop-up pie shop, Betty’s Pies and Cobblers, graced Main Street in Gardner for Valentine’s Day, and her next event will be on Feb. 29 at the American Legion Spring Fling.
“I love to bake, and my mom loved to bake, so I named the business Betty ‘s to honor her,” Jennifer said. “I learned from her kindness how to be a good neighbor. It means a lot to do something I love that also honors my mom. When you bake from scratch, you bake with love, and you can share those pies to help people feel better.”
Jennifer has a degree in hospitality and restaurant management, along with hundreds of memories of helping her mom in the kitchen.
“Memories get stored in our senses of smell and taste, and the smell of fresh-baked pie takes us all back to happy memories,” Jennifer said. “I love the feeling when people tell me that our pie is the best pie they ever had. It makes me feel so good, and I know it would make my mom so happy.”
When she suggested to her mother that they open a bakery, Betty Lou laughed and said she didn’t want to stand all day. Betty Lou got diagnosed with ovarian cancer on July 7, 2015, and had surgery on July 28. She passed away a month later.
“It went so fast,” Jennifer said. “She meant so much to everyone. Both my children have autism, so I have done disability advocacy for a long time. Then my Dad got diagnosed with Alzheimers, and I got an apartment built onto the back of the house, so I can help him when he needs it. He’s doing very well.”
Jennifer left her job as executive director of the Autism Society of the Heartland to care for her family. Her son, Cameron, 25, works two hours three days a week, and Jennifer helps as his job coach. Her daughter, Corinne, 26, always has communicated deeply with drawings, and has her own business with calendars, cards, and bookmarks, called Corinne’s Creations.
“One of my friends designed dolls and stocking caps based on Corinne’s art,” Jennifer said. “We set up a table at Comicon and at events at Elite Comics, where I can sell pies, including meat pies, and Corinne can display her work, too.”
Jennifer dreamed of opening a bakery and restaurant as a place where people with disabilities could have jobs and gain self-esteem. She wanted to combine her passion for baking with her advocacy for people with disabilities, but faced a setback with her own health, with degenerative disc and arthritis troubles.
“I had to stop going full force and take two steps back,” Jennifer said. “I’m living my dream, but I have to adapt it a little bit. We all have to do that.”
She found a commercial kitchen and now does catering, holiday pop-up shops, and events. When she works events, she often offers job skills practice to people who have disabilities, to reinforce that they have value and can help in the community, too. She’s licensed by the state of Kansas. Her website is bettyspiesandcobblers.com, and she is on Facebook as Betty’s Pies & Cobblers.
“Pop-up shops can be really fun,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for people to purchase pies, cobblers, and bread puddings.”
All 250 pies sold out in one hour and ten minutes at Jennifer’s Valentine’s Day pop-up shop. She has been a multi-tasking single mother for many years. She was executive producer for a film called Just Like You: Autism, which won an Emmy. She serves on the board of the Chamber of Commerce.
“Businesses need more education about the benefits of working with people who have disabilities,” Jennifer said. “They often have many talents.”
Jennifer has had to endure hearing unkind things, and she has had to teach her children not to take unkind words to heart.
“I say, it’s okay to agree to disagree, but it’s not okay to make fun of people or call people names,” she said. “That’s not conversation.”
She grew up in a household full of fun, with two brothers, Dan and Roger. When Roger wrestled, Jennifer accompanied the wrestlers as team mascot. Back then, she had some food allergies. Consequently, as a baker, she has searched out ways to make delicious versions of her family recipes that are gluten-free. She also makes sugar-free and vegan pies.
“I can adapt most orders, so everybody can have something good,” she said. “No one can tell the difference, and that way, everyone can share pie.”
As she talked, she made a chocolate crust for her chocolate cherry pie. She makes all kinds of pie, including key lime, peach, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, apple, and strawberry/rhubarb. She also bakes unique family specialty pies, including Grandma Bertie’s Egg Custard, cranberry chess, sweet potato, red velvet with cream cheese meringue, and chocolate cream with marshmallow meringue and pretzel crust. Corinne and Cameron sometimes help with the baking, but not a lot. Cameron likes to crush the pecans and crush the cookies for the cookie crust pies. Corinne likes the French silk pie the best.
Jennifer says she has learned a great deal from her adult children, and the learning never ends. She also feels a strong sense of responsibility.
“My mantra is, if not me, then who?” she said. “Who will take care of my kids if I don’t? Who will offer advice for other parents, or provide opportunities for other people? That’s what gives me the energy. Somebody has to do the work in this world. Who is that somebody? We all have to step up. We all have something we can do to help other people.”
With that idea in mind, Jennifer also founded the Corinne and Cameron Yes I Can Fund, which awards scholarships to students at USD 231 who have developmental disabilities. The fund has supplied $13,000 in scholarships since its inception in 2013. The scholarship celebrates uniqueness and creativity.
“Students let us know what has made them most successful in school,” she said. “Some of them are going on to 18 to 21 programs, or learning job skills. They can share their own talents, with videos, or pictures, or whatever feels right to them, and in this way, they communicate their successes in their own way, not in a way that other people expect or tell them to do.”
A fundraiser for that scholarship will happen at the end of April at Cornerstone Park by the pool. In addition to pies and art, the fundraiser will feature resources of all kinds.
“If I can do something to help change something around me, and change my surroundings, then I can help change the world,” she said. “We all hope that when we leave our own footprints in the sand, we will have solved problems and brought comfort.”