Beth and Bob Bianco pride themselves on making the opposite of “fast food.”
For the past 30 years, the proprietors of the Pearson House Restaurant in West Milton have been treating their customers to meals that require long hours in the kitchen: simmering soups and spaghetti sauces, meat loaf and beef and pork roasts, home-made salad dressings, hand-breaded onion rings, as well as breads and baked goods made from scratch.
The couple have created a homey atmosphere in the 1903 building that once housed a hotel. Photos of West Milton at the turn-of-the-century line the walls and, although the building has been recently renovated, the intricate tin ceilings and historic flavor has been preserved.
Pie always has been the major attraction. A look at the running tally of pieces served over the years shows that number reached one-half million on June 11 — only 10 days later, 1,000 more pieces of pie had been added. Customers have 30 varieties of pie to choose from — the most popular is strawberry rhubarb and banana cream comes in second. As for baked goods, the customer favorite is the Hummingbird Muffin.
We talked to the Biancos about their passion for cooking and asked them to share some of their best advice with cooks across the region as well as a favorite pie recipe.
PEARSON HOUSE APPLE PIE RECIPE
For a 9-inch pie
INGREDIENTS FOR PIE CRUST
2 cups sifted pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 3 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
4-6 Tablespoons ice cold water
INGREDIENTS FOR APPLE FILLING
20 ounces apples, peeled, cored and sliced
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons tapioca
Mix the flour and salt, add the shortening. Mix with hands until flour and shortening are crumbled well together. Add the ice cold water and stir until dough begins to come together. ( You may need a bit more water for right consistency.) Bring dough together in a ball. Set on counter and let rest 10 to 15 minutes. Divide dough into 2 portions. Sprinkle flour on counter and place first ball of dough, slightly flattened. Sprinkle a bit of flour on the top of the disk of dough. Using a rolling pin, roll dough to about 1/8 inch thick. (Try to not add too much extra flour, that makes the crust tough.) Fit dough into a pie pan. Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl and pour into the pie shell.
Roll second ball of dough. Wet the edge of the crust in the pan and then place the second crust on pan, covering the fruit. Seal the edge by pressing gently around the pan. Trim off any extra dough. Crimp or use a fork to press the dough together around the pan. Make a few slits in the top of the dough for steam to escape as pie bakes. Bake at 400 degrees for 45–50 minutes.
5 QUESTIONS WITH THE BIANCOS OF PEARSON HOUSE RESTAURANT
Q: HOW DID YOU HAPPEN TO START A RESTAURANT?
Beth: I graduated from University of Dayton in 1963 with a degree in Medical Technology and worked at Good Samaritan in the microbiology lab for a number of years. At about age 40, I just felt I needed to do something different.
Bob: I had worked at many jobs during my 75 years of existence: My first was as a Dayton Daily News carrier. I’ve set pins in a bowling alley, been a clerk at Liberal Markets, served three years in the Army in France and worked as a welder. When Beth decided she wanted a family restaurant, I supported her and we rented the space we are in now. We went to restaurant auctions to acquire equipment and with some friends remodeled the interior and after nine months opened for business.
Beth: Having a family business is a lot of hard work, but it is gratifying to see it be successful. The decisions we have made have allowed us to be here for 30 years. Now our daughter and granddaughter work here, too.
Q: HOW DID YOU LEARN TO COOK AND WHY DO YOU ENJOY IT?
Bob: Since I knew nothing about food preparation, I stayed out of the kitchen in the beginning. But in the late ‘80’s when our pie baker decided to retire back to England and there was no one to take her place, I said I would give it a try. I have been “trying” it for 24 years.
Beth: We still sell the Chocolate Strata Pie that our original pie baker made. That pie was called “Ted Ryan pie” for a while after Mr. Ryan visited us as part of the Travelogue series he did for WHIO-TV evening news in the ‘80’s.
Bob: In the early years, I only had to make 10-20 pies a week; now it is 40-50. Our freezer now holds 55 pies. Pies are baked daily as needed, so they are fresh and all of our pies are made with frozen fruit, no canned pie filling. One exception is pumpkin that I make for Thanksgiving —I’ll make 40-60 of them just for holiday orders.
Beth: Favorite pies are strawberry-rhubarb, cherry and black raspberry, butterscotch, peanut butter, peanut butter-chocolate swirl, lemon meringue and the baked old fashioned cream. Our chocolate-peanut butter silk is a popular one, too.
Bob: It’s gratifying to know that people like my pies. We’ve had people here from more than 65 countries. One of our customers was on vacation in Rome and ran into someone else who had eaten here. They tell me our pie crust is one of the best — at some places cream-pie crusts are soggy — and ours is never soggy.
Q: WHO DOES THE COOKING AND HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH MENU ITEMS?
Beth: I am a cook at Pearson House. I learned from my mother and grandmother the fundamentals of good home cooking. That has been my goal through the years to serve good “downtown Ohio” home cooking.
I enjoy making bread, so I am constantly seeking that “special” recipe that I need to make. There is always something new to learn. We have eight employees who are cooks. None of us has formal training, but each person has brought their interest in cooking to Pearson House. Our cooks spend much time cleaning, slicing and cutting fresh vegetables. For a fresh fruit dish, it takes time to cut pineapple, peel and cut oranges.
Some of the more popular items on our menu are our breaded pork tenderloin that’s freshly breaded by the order, my mother’s ham loaf recipe, a cousin’s corn pudding. Customers make suggestions for something that we might want to try. Just last evening, a lady wondered if I had made baked custard lately. I haven’t, so I will.
Q: WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR NEW COOKS OR BAKERS?
Bob: Use simple recipes and when you’re starting out, follow the directions in a cookbook to the letter. Use fresh ingredients whenever possible and if you can’t, use fresh frozen rather than canned. Don’t get discouraged.
Beth: Practice is what it takes.
Q: WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT PIE?
Bob: It’s comfort food. Even when someone eats a whole meal and thinks they don’t have room, they’ll order it. They’ll go ahead and eat it or take it home.
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