Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cohocton's own pie making madame extraordinaire

Luanne Domm showing a rack of elderberry pies

     The Domms are well known for their authentic Mexican tacos served at area festivals and in the restaurant at 2 Wayland Street, North Cohocton. However, their specialty grape and elderberry desserts take equal notice.
     Close to 2000 pies and 1200 filled cookies are baked in the ovens within the two -week time period between the Naples Grape Festival and the Cohocton Fall Foliage Festival. Grape pies with a crumb topping are gaining in popularity, too. Pies can be purchased throughout the year, along with jars of elderberry pie filling.     
     After forty years of pie making, Domm says that her best asset is that everything is homemade from scratch, and no two batches of cookies look the same.
     “We don’t skimp on the filling either, and each pie is a full two pounder,” states Domm.
     “I don’t like things made on an assembly line,” Domm explains holding up the first tray of elderberry cookies straight from the kitchen.
      “Everything that we do here at the restaurant is done as a family even down to collecting the grapes and elderberries. That’s what makes us special. You will see our great-granddaughter playing among the customers, while her mom takes orders.”
     “Most area pie makers that sell to the public hire others to assemble the pies. It’s different with us. Between Bob and myself we touch every phase in the process of putting together a pie.”
     Domm’s early cooking influence came from her mother, Alverna Miller and Phyllis Rathbun, her 4-H leader. Today Mrs. Miller is one of the pie salespersons at the Naples Grape Festival, and she remains proud of her daughter’s achievement.
     As a young mother always in need of some extra spending money, Domm started making grape pies. Things changed when a relative brought her some elderberries. Domm sold ten elderberry pies in an hour at a festival, and decided that there must be something to it.
    Making an elderberry pie starts in August with the challenge of going to pick the wild berries. This becomes a family adventure for the Domm grown-ups, as it is a little risky for young ones. Elderberries are not cultivated, but grow near hedgerows and in wet swampy areas.
     “Picture us in long-sleeved shirts, boots and pants sitting in a swamp with mosquitoes flying all over. We just hope that we do not fall in the muck while we pick. We come back with eight to ten large paper grocery sacks per day,” Domm laughs easily along with Bob who interjects.
     “An elderberry pie is labor intensive from start to finish. Mostly older customers buy them because younger people are not as familiar with them. However, once someone tries a filled cookie or a slice of pie they will be surprised at the taste, and they will come back for more.”
     “Fall Foliage attracts a lot of people from Canada and Buffalo. They drive the distance to get our pies and have become faithful customers. The first place that they stop is at the restaurant stand to get their pies before visiting the rest of the area,” says Bob talking as he goes back and forth between the kitchen and cooling racks piled high to the ceiling in the small dining room. Apparently frequent customers know what to expect during the fall season, and do not let that interfere with eating there.
     “I need to find the ‘Jesus is Lord pie lady’. This did not start out intentionally as our logo, but it has evolved. Let me explain. We put a small sticker on each outer wrapping. That is how people recognize our pies from others at the festival now,” explains Domm.
     Domm attests to working long hard days in order to keep the business going with the love and support of her family.
     “My dad had a tractor sales firm in North Cohocton, and I never thought that I would end up having a business, but I tell myself that it is what it is, and that’s how my life has worked out.”
      Mo-Jo's Tacos opened on April 1, 1990.  After seven years and a restaurant in two locations, the Domms decided to concentrate on their concession stands. However, in 2008 they opened the doors once again in their original location.
     Like the nursery rhyme that sings a song of sixpence with four and twenty blackbirds baking in a pie, when Mo-Jo Tacos’ grape and elderberry pies are sliced, not only are their customers delighted, but the Domm family, as well. They have provided a pleasing food experience for others all in a day’s work.