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Enjoy Life—Eat Pie
Amble into the Sunglow Café in Bicknell (pop. 322), and you’ll think you’ve walked onto a movie set and into a world both familiar, but different. Mustard colored walls echo the sandstone outside. Large, teal painted arrows on the walls are reminiscent of ancient Native American symbols seeming to guide you on the path to wisdom. Inside this modern day Kiva a few miles outside of Torrey, these arrows point to a different sort of mantra written just inside the front door: Enjoy life. Eat Pie.
Though baseball caps have replaced cowboy hats, Levis still seem to fit just right over the mostly long, lean frames of men who sit as comfortably in a saddle as they do in an easy chair. Chances are you’ll be welcomed by Sadiee or her mom, Misty. Brian, Sadiee’s dad and Sunglow’s cook, flips burgers, eggs, and pancakes on the griddle.
At the Sunglow Café you can order steak and eggs for breakfast, steak and salad for lunch, or steak and potatoes for dinner. Bicknell is still cattle country. For $1.99, you can have chocolate milk. The menu is as long and deep as the famous red rock canyons nearby. But while people come in for good food at honest prices, curiosity seekers come to taste the fruit of knowledge: the Pickle and Pinto Bean pies.
Yes, you read correctly, the Pickle and Pinto Bean pies have made the Sunglow somewhat famous. They were the creation of Cula Ekker, who was once known as the “Pie Queen” of Wayne County.
No one knows the exact origin of Cula’s creations, but, says Brian, they date to the Depression when people simply had to make do with what they had and everything was made from scratch.
Cula’s brother, Milton Taft, says he and his sister were two of six siblings who grew up nearby on a farm. When Cula was just nine years-old, a brother was injured in a riding accident and spent most of a year in a hospital in Salt Lake City. Their mom went with him, leaving Cula to handle the cooking for the family and the farm hands.
“Cula loved to cook,” says Milton. “She was always cooking. She had a job for several years cooking at the local school.”
When Milton built the Sunglow motel in 1965, along with the restaurant, Cula signed on as chef and began serving up her famous Pickle Pie.
According to Brian, legend has it that one day two bikers were passing through and one had a recipe for Pinto Bean pie. He and Cula swapped their secret formulas. No one knows what became of the biker, but Cula added the pinto bean to her menu.
Cula passed away a few years ago, but not before sharing her recipes with Bessie Stewart, who has worked at the Sunglow for 31 years. Also born and raised in Wayne County, Bessie comes in at 5 a.m. to make up about 14 fresh pies, and she still makes the soup noodles from scratch. Last November, she baked over 300 pies to fill Thanksgiving orders.
“Cooking is all I ever done all my life,” she says. “We moved to Hanksville when Lake Powell went in, and worked for people in motels and gas stations and then moved to Bicknell. I started working for Cula in 1983.”
In addition to continuing Cula’s legacy, Bessie is locally and affectionately known as the “pistol-packing pastry chef.” She once unloaded the barrel of a .22, firing at her husband as he tried to disappear into the darkness of a desert night.
“The Lord was with him,” she laughs. “We were both so angry. When I picked up that gun, he knew I meant business and took off running. It was so dark I couldn’t see, so I fired at the sounds he made as he ran. It took a few years before we could laugh about it,” she says, “but eventually we made up.” Today, she has four kids, 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. Her husband passed away several years ago.
Says Brian, “Every summer we get about 50 tour buses packed with Europeans headed to Escalante. The French love the pies. We hear it over and over again that this is the type of pastry you would find in a different kind of eating establishment.”
What’s the secret? Says Bessie, “It’s the lard. We only use pure pork lard. It makes for the flakiest crust.”
In addition to Pickle and Pinto Bean, the Sunglow serves up Buttermilk and Oatmeal pies along with the more traditional Apple, Pecan, and Blueberry. Whole pies are $9.95 and a single slice is $3.49.
Pickle Pie has a sweet but tangy taste you might savor on a summer’s day, while the Pinto Bean, coconut mashed with the beans, has a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of pie.
Whoever painted those four words on the wall was truly wise: Enjoy Life. Eat Pie. At least at the Sunglow Café.
Cula Ekker’s Pie Dough Recipe
6 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 – ¼ pounds (2-1/3 cups) of pure pork lard – no substitutions
12 tablespoons Water
2 tablespoons vinegar
In a mixing bowl, sift flour and salt. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk together water, vinegar, and eggs until thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, into flour mixture, stirring lightly with a fork after each addition until the pastry is just moist enough to hold together. Shape pastry into a ball. Roll out as desired.
The Sunglow Family Restaurant and Hotel at 91 E Main St, Bicknell, UT 435 425-3701
At the Sunglow Cafe, you are likely to be welcomed and waited on by Saidee (left) or her mom, Misty (center), while Saidee’s dad, Brian, serves as manager and cook. Photos by Sharon Spaulding.
At the Sunglow Cafe, mustard colored walls echo the sandstone outside, while teal painted arrows reminiscent of Native American symbols point to a mantra the locals know so well.
In addition to its famous Pickle and Pinto Bean pies, pastry chef Bessie Stewart makes up traditional varieties almost daily. Everything is made fresh. If you can’t decide, try the Sampler – Oatmeal, Buttermilk, Pickle, and Pinto Bean.
Like Mother Like Daughter: Helping Others Lift Themselves Out of Poverty
May 7, 2016
Growing up in Puerto Rico with 12 people in a three-room hut with an outhouse, Leah Barker never imagined that one day she would lead an international nonprofit working to lift families like hers out of poverty.
Fast forward to Salt Lake City where Barker, 50, runs an innovative $5 million organization working in rural areas in developing countries.
“I’ve lived it,” says Barker, from her industrial park office. “I watched my mom do it, and I’ve done it. Now I have the privilege of working with others, particularly women, to learn the skills they need to realize their own dreams and break the cycle of poverty.”
Dressed in khakis, T-shirt, and a scarf made by a women’s cooperative in one of “her” villages, Barker credits her success to her mom’s tenacity and being a great role model.
“My parents divorced when I was 5, and my dad never provided any support,” she said. “With my mom running the show, I knew I was headed somewhere, I just didn’t know where.
“My mom’s mantra was education. She used to tell us that the only need we had was getting an education. ‘If you need shoes,’ she would say, ‘it better be that the school requires them. If you don’t need shoes for school, you don’t need them.”
When her parents split up, her mother took a factory job earning just $500 per month to provide for a family of six. She also went back to school. She finished her high school diploma, got a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and finally became an elementary school teacher. “By the time I was in the third grade, she was my English teacher, ” says Barker.
After her own high school graduation, Barker followed in her mother’s footsteps and enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico, but also like her mother, she ended up marrying a “bozo,” as she refers to her first husband. Along the way, she moved to Utah where she dropped out of school to work to pay for his college education and take care of their two children.
“Eventually,” she recalls, “we separated. My mom’s advice? Get back into school.”
Barker listened to her mom and earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Her first job after college was with the Salt Lake County Housing Authority.
“When I went to the interview, the woman asked why she should hire me instead of the 60 other candidates who were much more qualified. Because, I told her, I’ve lived it. I watched my mother move us out of poverty, and now I’ve done it.” Barker got the job.
After a few years in that position and later with an educational nonprofit, in 2009, Barker became CEO of CHOICE Humanitarian, an international nonprofit working in rural areas of eight developing countries.
According to Barker, the CHOICE Leadership Model of village development focuses on empowering women to create their own path out of poverty. It is an integrated approach incorporating education, health, environment, culture and economic development. It is designed to strengthen local leadership and train others to become leaders.
“Of course, we also work with men and families,” Barker says, “but when you focus on the women, results happen. The moms are the ones who set the examples and raise the standards for their children.”
Since taking over as CEO, Barker has increased donations each year by $750,000.
“Every dollar donated to CHOICE is leveraged by a multiplier of five, and the organization is debt-free,” she says. “We practice what we teach.”
Her approach to fundraising is similar to the methodology CHOICE uses in villages.
“The point of our work,” she says, “is for villages to become self-sustaining and self-developing. The same is true for CHOICE as an organization.”
Barker is referring to an innovative approach to fundraising. Traditionally, nonprofits rely on the generosity of individual donors and grants. While CHOICE utilizes this approach, it also engages with corporations in two ways: one, they take company employees into the field to spend a week working alongside villagers on projects that the locals have determined to be critical to their path of self-reliance. Projects might include digging wells, building schools, health clinics, or even cook stoves.
The second approach with its corporate partners is one that helps to establish markets for products made in the villages. A leader in essential oils, doTERRA, funds CHOICE’S work to train small farmers in sustainable agricultural practices. The small farmers, in turn, grow environmentally green crops that are then sold to doTERRA at fair-market value.
“This provides economic opportunity for the villagers, and is helping CHOICE become a self-sustaining nonprofit,” Barker says. “Everyone wins.”
According to Barker, taking people into the fie ld on expeditions is a life-changing experience. “You get to experience true partnership with others. You find it isn’t about us helping them. It is about people helping people. That’s why we run expeditions for college students, families, even singles groups. As my mom used to say, we are all in this together.”
For companies, going on an expedition also creates team bonding across all levels.
“Being a socially responsible company is important these days, especially to younger employees and consumers,” says Barker.
Another example of a corporate partner she cites is the clothing and home furnishing retailer, DownEast, whose primary market is Millennials.
“In seven years, DownEast has contributed over $200,000 through employee gifts and corporate matching and the have sent their employees, including their founders, on four expeditions,” Barker says. “This year, the village DownEast adopted on their first trip has officially graduated from our program.”
What does Barker’s mother think of her daughter’s success?
“She is so proud,” says Barker, “because it’s all about giving back and passing on what I learned from her.”
Besides the importance of an education, what other lessons did Barker learn from her mom that she now passes along to young mothers?
“Be a good role model – your children are learning from you how to become adults.”
The Woman in the Market
Mar 25, 2017
“Who’s that woman over there? No. Over there. The platinum blonde selling the Provence linens, just past the spice vendor, opposite the flower stall. The one whose legs are stuffed like sausages into those lace up, white vinyl, gladiator boots with heels. Doesn’t she know it is 95 degrees today? Those boys we passed along the way, the ones who were diving for coins in the river by the footbridge, they know how hot it is.”
“I bet she hawks linens by day and croons by night, a wannabe chanteuse in a second-class, smoke-filled bar, pining for when she was young and ran off to North Africa with the Algerian prince she met at the café where she worked as a waitress. Her father disowned her for that one!”
“No. She must be married to the butcher, that pig of a man selling sausages at the edge of the market. He probably told her to wear those ridiculous boots because it gave him a hard-on and he likes his women slightly stuffed.”
“She dumped him a long time ago for the salty haired antiques dealer with the deep set eyes who sells cleavers and other implements.”
“It’s probably just her cover and she’s really a spy. I mean, I didn’t see her last weekend and I made it almost all the way around the entire market. Those linens probably have codes written in invisible ink or computer chips or antique coins sewn into the hems. Coins. Maybe that’s what those boys were searching for in the river.”
“I bet those boys are her kids or maybe even her grandkids. She probably gave them a few coins to stop pestering her and sent them off to the boulangerie to buy bread for dinner. Of course they never made it to the baker and spent the money instead on ice cream…”
“…but not wanting to risk the hand of the butcher, their father, they decided to hunt for treasure among the river rocks so they wouldn’t have to fess up to their crime. But that’s another story.”
“No. I’m certain I saw her once in the pages of a magazine when she was a fashion model and those boots were still in style.”