PEACH LATTICE PIE
Excerpt from The Great Arkansas Pie Book by Kat Robinson
Jan Simrell has been making pies for decades and is one of the most proficient piemakers I have ever met. She and her husband Ronald moved to Arkansas from Frankfort, Illinois (about 20 miles from Chicago) after her father-in-law, Aaron Simrell, contacted them. He had discovered the Beaver Lake area, and he told her, “Tell your husband to load up the four boys and get them down here – I have found a little bit of heaven.” So, the couple packed up their four sons – Ronald Junior, Larry, Kurt, and Jody – and moved down to this peninsula on the north shore of the lake.
Jan says “We didn’t know what we were getting into. The lake was just four or five years old, and it was so clear and beautiful when it was calm, you could see all the way to the bottom. It’s still such a pretty lake with its crystal waters.”
Today, Jody manages the property and makes the pizzas at the restaurant, and Jan bakes. The resort has gained fame over the years for the ever-growing fireworks show the family puts on each year. It grows by leaps and bounds, and has become the region’s most noted fireworks show, even being cited by Reader’s Digest in 2022 as the best place to view fireworks in the state of Arkansas.
It’s the pies, though, that captured my attention when I went in 2013 to see those fireworks. Grav Weldon and I arrived mid-afternoon, and after touring the munitions that would soon light up the sky with Jody, we sat down for a break with iced tea and slices of Jan’s homemade pie. Let me tell you what – the fireworks for me started with the first bite of the succulent peach pie – fresh, pliant peaches with that bit of crunch and the pinkish turn where the pit had been pulled, with just the right amount of spice and splendor to it. The flavor struck me as being one of the best peach pies in Arkansas, and I have been determined to get back ever since to try it again.
That’s how in January 2023, while researching this very book, I ended up in Jan and Jody’s kitchen on an off-season Monday. While the resort is year-round, the restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday, Memorial Day to Labor Day, serving burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and salads to guests and visitors. The vintage jukebox plays decades of great pop and country hits. Jody’s pizzas get acclaim these days, but during these winter months, the kitchen is often silent, only opened for special occasions.
Jan has her measurements down pat, rolls her dough with ease, and effortlessly lays each pastry into the pan. She can perfectly flute a pie, knowing well how the press of her finger against the dough makes the perfect semi-circle inch over inch, coming out to a perfect edge every single time. Her crusts are even. She can expertly cut a lattice strip an inch wide or less without a guide, and her hands work so smoothly as she weaves on the lattice over the filling.
Jan and Ron were married for sixty years before he passed in 2016. Their family operation is still strong after all these years, not only because of the fame fireworks have brought to the place, but because of customers who come back as guests again and again. Jody will often grace visitors with his magnificent talent at piano playing, popping out classics from gospel to country to rock, playing the grand piano or a new electronic piano in the meeting room at the other end of the lodge. New developments are always happening – a new pavilion one year, perhaps a smokehouse the next. And Jan’s pies continue to bring hungry travelers down windy roads for an afternoon’s respite.
To make Jan’s Fresh Peach Pie
3 cups fresh sliced peaches
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 unbaked 10-inch pastry pie crusts
Mix peaches, sugar, butter, and vanilla and 1/2 cup water together and bring to a boil. Simmer until peaches are soft and tender. Do not overcook. Remove from heat.
Add 2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with almond extract and remaining water and vanilla. Gently stir into hot peaches. Return to heat. Stir occasionally to thicken. Be careful not to crush peach slices. When thickened, remove from heat.
Prepare the crust. Roll out one crust and put into 10-inch pie plate, leaving about an inch around the edges. Pour hot filling into crust. Roll out second pastry crust and cut into strips for lattice top. Flute around edges with fingers. Lay on the lattice, and then press a fork around the edges to seal the lattice.
Bake at 375° in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Reduce to 350° and bake another 30 minutes, until filling is bubbling, and crust browned.
Ventris Trail’s End Resort is located at 9484 Simrell Drive, in Garfield, Arkansas. Contact them at 501-359-3912, or visit beaverlakeresort.com.