Under my hat: Top stars craved this pie
Liberace wasn’t the only famous celebrity who craved Hess’s strawberry pie. Dan Blocker, left, and Lorne Green, stars of TV’s “Bonanza,” just couldn’t resist a taste. HESS’S ARCHIVES
A former public relations staffer, talented Susan Weller Bickta was inspired by Hess’s corporate ethic to be the best. She went on to become a 2019 national finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest and category winner of the 2018 U. S. Oyster Cook-Off. She wore a vintage Hess’s Marketplace apron at our co-worker reunion. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Our biannual Hess’s Employees Reunion is a not-to-miss affair.
I made sure to be there in August for the special get-together at Emmaus Community Park.
The reunion is limited to those of us who worked at just one location — the flagship store in Allentown, legendary Hollywood on Hamilton.
That distinction is made because, as you probably recall, Hess’s expanded in Pennsylvania and the East Coast in the 1970s. But there was only one main store. That’s where the big action was.
I was hired to work in Hess’s advertising and public relations department, which was the largest in-house ad agency in Pennsylvania, next in size only to those of New York City. It included spectacular fashion models, talented artists, skilled writers, savvy merchandise illustrators, hustling production staff and sharp-as-a-tack photographers. I was thrilled to work with them for four years and used the experience to absorb as much as possible. Our job was to make Hess’s look good. In a way, how could it not?
To be honest, even the company’s rigorous employee training program was an opportunity, very precise and detail oriented. I was a young man from the rural, coal-region mountains of Tamaqua, and the chance to join Hess’s staff was a dream come true.
We talk about such things at the reunion, which, I hope, continues. But I’m concerned.
At one time, more than 135 of us gathered for the event. But we’ve dwindled down to 90. Our group is growing older and smaller. The future is uncertain, and so the moments we spend together are precious. I don’t want to think about it, but the people who gave Hess’s its character are dying off each year.
This time, we discussed the famous Hess’s Patio Restaurant Strawberry Pie, loved by all, including Dan Blocker and Lorne Green, stars of TV’s “Bonanza” series.
Liberace, world-famous pianist, swooned over the pie when he came to visit. Thereafter he had a standing order for the pies every Christmas.
I remember it well. Liberace walked right up to my work station and I shook his hand. I said: “Welcome to Hess’s of Allentown. We’re honored to have you here.”
He graciously returned the greeting with a warm smile and appeared to chuckle a bit. I later learned that the bodyguards accompanying him were there to make sure nobody touched his valuable hands. Truth is, his hands were so important they were insured for millions by Lloyd’s of London. Who knew? Nobody said a word. No wonder he laughed at me.
Anyway, for those of you who might want to see for yourself why Liberace adored Hess’s iconic dessert, I’m including the recipe here.
If you’re ambitious enough to prepare it, let me know what you think. Don’t ask me for the calorie count. I don’t have a clue and I suspect we’d rather not know.
Hess’s Strawberry Pie
8 cups of whole fresh strawberries, stems removed
10-12 additional strawberries with stems for garnish
1 cup powdered sugar, plus a separate ¼ cup
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
12 drops red food coloring
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 9-inch baked pie crust
Wash and stem the 8 cups of strawberries. Mix 6 cups with powdered sugar. Let stand for one hour. Cook remaining two cups of berries with water until tender and rub through sieve. Mix sugar and cornstarch and add to the strained strawberry juice. Cook until clear. Add food coloring. Let cool slightly, stirring a bit.
Arrange whole strawberries, stem side down, in pie shell. Mound the berries in center of pie. Pour cooked strawberry mixture evenly atop strawberries in pie shell. Refrigerate until cold.
Pour whipping cream into cold mixing bowl. Beat cream at medium-high speed until it begins to thicken. On low speed, add the ¼ cup of powdered sugar and vanilla. Continue to beat until stiff but not fluffy. Use whipped cream as decorating tool, piping it onto the pie up to two hours before serving. Garnish with whole strawberries, still attached to stems. Keep refrigerated until served. Enjoy!