MEAFORD, ONTARIO — Grace Lambe made her first pie for sale 26 years ago because she had peaches that were going bad. “I didn’t want to waste them,” she says, “so I made the pies and put them out on a stand and they sold. To think, from that came this business.”
Grandma Lambe’s is much more than a dollars-and-cents operation, though. Set on 2,000 acres of family-owned farmland just east of the Meaford business district, the country bakery and market is a community institution, tourist attraction and history lesson in one charming structure in Grey County.
Working seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Lambe, 83, oversees the business that she says churns out approximately 35,000 homemade pies a year. There are also cookies, cakes, tarts, frozen yoghurt, jellies and preserves for sale, along with fruits and vegetables from the farm and lots of knickknacks that would seem kitschy if you found them in Toronto. In rural Ontario, though, they come across, not surprisingly, as fitting touches to a store that keeps alive the past and adds a lot of pleasure to the present. You’ll also spot century-old family photos and historic scenes of Meaford. Lambe might also tell you about her and her neighbours’ efforts to help the forces during World War II, a reminder of the amazing feats performed by her generation of Canadians and Americans.
Despite all that the store offers, it’s the apple pie that has made Grandma Lambe’s a destination in this part of the world. They’re made with fresh ingredients, a tenderflake crust that includes lard and lots of care. Bite into a piece and you’ll understand why customers routinely drive from Toronto to stock up. The thick, gooey filling is loaded with chunks of apple and the crust is soft, easy to cut into. It’s delicious, of course, but not sugary sweet.
“There’s no secret, really,” Lambe told me when I dropped in last week, after being prompted to do so by residents of nearby Collingwood (“You have to go to Grandma Lambe’s,” more than one person ordered). “The recipes are my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s and we make them fresh every day. Nothing is store bought.”
Although Grandma Lambe’s is one of the stops on the Apple Pie Trail that winds through the Blue Mountains area of the province, the store also makes several other varieties of pies. “The rhubarb is my favourite,” Lambe says during a conversation in the store’s expansive and orderly modern kitchen that gleams with stainless steel.
While she has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, the business is actually named after her mother-in-law, Mabel Lambe. Grace Lambe took over the operations in 1991, shortly after her husband passed away. It’s been her focus since and the business has expanded to a second location in Chatsworth, outside of Owen Sound.
Next time you’re in the Blue Mountains area, drop in for the pie and for a slice of authentic Ontario homeyness that’s not as easy to find these days as it used to be.
DIRECTIONS: To get to Grandma Lambe’s original location from Toronto, take Highway 400 North to Highway 26 West. The store, with a large sign, will be on your left about two kilometres outside of the town of Meaford. The drive will take about 2 hours, 30 minutes. The second location is in Chatsworth, about 10 minutes outside of Owen Sound.
ABOUT THE GREAT DESSERT SEARCH: About a year ago, a friend of mine came up with the name for The Great Dessert Search — a compilation of the absolute best sweet treats on the planet (or at least near Toronto). If you’ve got a dessert you’d like to nominate, let me know — or write about it yourself and send in photos if you have them.