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Author, restaurateur to share tips at Claremont’s pie festival

Now more than ever, Americans are a fractious group. We bicker (a lot) about politics, sexuality, money, morals and art. And while there’s much disharmony, there is one subject on which we can find near universal agreement—our beloved, famously popular and even patriotic confection, pie.

Though we didn’t invent it (Thanks, ancient Greeks), Americans sure do love us some pie. We write songs about it, and it’s embedded in our lexicon (“easy as pie”). According to the American Pie Council (Hell, there’s an American Pie Council!), 47 percent of Americans say “comforting” comes to mind when they think of pie. Is there a more perfect food? You can judge for yourself on Saturday, March 17, the sixth annual Claremont Pie Festival takes over the Village from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event was launched in 2013 with a handful of volunteers and drew a crowd of about 800. Last year, more than 8,000 pie-lovers showed up.

“Walking around, handing out festival posters to the stores this year, it really hit me how much this event has grown,” said Annika Corbin, co-owner of Claremont’s I Like Pie (with her husband Rob Corbin), and director of the Claremont Pie Festival. “Business owners were telling me how busy they are that day, and that they need to staff-up to handle the crowd, which I love to hear. We really want people to experience the Village when they’re here.”

The fest is sponsored by I Like Pie, Claremont Village Marketing Group and the Back Abbey. It includes a pie baking contest, baking and making demonstrations, artisan and food vendors, a pie eating contest, vintage apron display, recipe card hunt, vintage car show, live music, a kids’ vendor area, “brown bag bargains” at various Village shops, and, gloriously, a pie tasting buffet.

This year’s special guest is baker, candy maker, restaurateur and author Christine Moore. The Altadena resident will show festival-goers how she prepares her lemon merengue pie and her highly-addictive pretzel rolls. She will sign copies of her two cookbooks, 2012’s Little Flower: Recipes from the Café and Little Flower Baking, which was published in 2016.

“She’s a remarkable person and she really embodies the spirit of the Pie Festival with her passion for baking and for life,” Ms. Corbin said. “We’re so excited to have her.”

Ms. Moore has two daughters, 18 and 17, and a son, 10. They all grew up in and around their mother’s wildly popular Pasadena restaurants, Little Flower Café and Lincoln, and her equally bustling candy business, Little Flower Candy Co.

She was a new mother when it all began.

“I was home with a newborn baby, and was feeling a little under-utilized, having left the busy life of restaurant kitchen work. I was having a little bit of a hard time sitting still,” Ms. Moore, 54, recalled. “So, I started making candy in my Highland Park kitchen 19 years ago.”

After some experimentation, she hit upon what would become her signature confection: an incredibly tasty, somehow delicate but still satisfyingly chewy sea salt caramel. Within six months, the sublime little candies were being sold at several locations around Los Angeles. Her early packaging was mysterious, with no contact information. But those who knew, knew.

“It was just a little grassroots effort that just slowly grew by word-of-mouth,” Ms. Moore said.

Her candy is now sold in more than 100 locations across the US—including Claremont’s own wonderfully curated, homegrown treasure, the Cheese Cave—in Japan and France. The recipe for those early caramels, made between feeding her newborn (now a college freshman) remains unchanged. The line now includes vanilla and chocolate caramels, as well as marshmallows and other goodies, all still crafted by hand every day, now by a dedicated team at Little Flower.

Little Flower Café on West Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena opened in 2008. The small-ish, jewel-box restaurant has since become one of LA’s go-to spots, earning the love and loyalty of legions of locals, critics and food aficionados from all over.

In 2014, Ms. Moore launched Lincoln, a larger space in North Pasadena, which was immediately inundated. Her work has been lauded by The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and by Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer, Jonathan Gold.

She’s known far-and-wide as a tireless, vivacious collaborator who lifts up those around her, empowering, encouraging and directly supporting folks in her employ, and otherwise, to reach for what they love. Ms. Moore’s style, in her work and life, is simple, fresh and understated.

“We want to elevate the food, but we don’t want it to be precious,” she said. “We just want it to be delicious.”

She described a recent dinner party she threw for a friend on his birthday. Her guests were raving about her salad.

“It was bitter greens with this killer vinaigrette that I made, and shaved parmesan [cheese], and that’s it. It doesn’t get any simpler than that, and that’s the one thing everyone was talking about.”

Ms. Corbin, it would seem, is a kindred spirit.

“I got the idea for the festival when we opened I Like Pie in 2012 and I began to realize how many people had never tasted a real pie—the kind someone makes for you or you make for yourself,” she said. “Grocery store pies or pies that have been over-processed are all a lot of people know. They don’t even come close to the real thing, and I think that’s such a shame. The festival is intended to teach people to love and understand baking and to appreciate the attention that goes into making handmade goods of all kinds.”

Claremont was looking lovely on the sunny but brisk late Tuesday afternoon when Ms. Moore was in town to have her photo taken for this story. Afterward, she and her young son took a guided walking tour of the Village, checking out the Cheese Cave, Some Crust, the Folk Music Center, Bert and Rocky’s and Walter’s.

In the early days, her kids often tagged along in the family’s well-traveled Volvo wagon on pre-dawn runs across Los Angeles, helping out where they could, while mom made, packaged and delivered her increasingly in-demand creations. She was asked Tuesday if her children might one day take over the restaurants and candy business.

“The kids have grown up in the restaurant, and they’ve grown with the business, but they have their own lives, and their own paths to choose,” she said. “My goal is to continue to work with my passion, which is serving, and cooking, and feeding people, bringing people together and providing a sense of community in two different locations. It’s a great life, what I get to do. I’m very, very lucky.”

Ms. Moore will be making her lemon meringue pie from 1:30 to 2 p.m. at the Festival’s demonstration stage at Laemmle Public Plaza. She’ll be signing books from 2:10 to 2:40 p.m., and will be sharing culinary secrets of her incredible pretzel rolls from 3 to 3:30 p.m.

For more info go to littleflowercandyco.com, lincolnpasadena.com, claremontpiefestival.com or call (909) 621-5152.

—Mick Rhodes