A slice of the life of Bertha Nyseth, baker at Mom’s Pies in Eugene.
By Mackenzie Henshaw
Inside the white exterior of Mom’s Pies in downtown Eugene, a petite woman with short white hair and a big smile hunches over the counter kneading fresh pie dough. She has a quintessential grandmother personality—warm, kind and inviting—and she is the one baking the pie recipe that has made Mom’s Pies a household name in Oregon since the 1970s. This is Bertha Nyseth, 86, who put the “mom” in Mom’s Pies some 20 years ago and has been diligently and happily baking pies ever since.
An Oregon native, Nyseth began professionally baking pies when she started working at a restaurant in the 1970s called the McKenzie Village Café located along the McKenzie River near Vida, Oregon. “I didn’t make pies the whole time, I also cooked in the restaurant,” Nyseth says. “I wasn’t originally very good. I didn’t have any special technique.”
After some practice and advice, she assumed the position as head baker and eventually suggested the name Mom’s. With the name came her expertise. “The key is chilled dough,” Nyseth says. She followed the original recipe from the Village Café, baking popular combinations such as blueberry peach for the pies she created daily.
After several years of dedicating her time and energy to the craft of baking pies, Nyseth was forced to take a break from professional pie making in 2003 when Mom’s Pies closed shop for a while. The transition was difficult for Nyseth, who had grown accustomed to the daily routine. “I had always said that I would work up there until they closed, and I feel good that I did get to work until then. At that time I never thought that I would be making pies again, but I am,” Nyseth says.
So when Mom’s Pies eventually relocated to downtown Eugene, Nyseth moved along with it. And after decades, Nyseth still works to knead, mix, fill, crimp and bake fresh batches of pies for the Mom’s Pies storefront downtown.
“We feel fortunate to have her here,” says Lou Sangermano, owner of Mom’s Pies. “She just loves what she does.”
“That’s why he [Sangermano] has me here,” Nyseth says. “He can say ‘Oh Mom still works here. She’s the same person that made the pies from the start.’”
Although Nyseth is not actually a member of the Sangermano family that has owned Mom’s Pies since the beginning, she is definitely treated like one. Lou Sangermano and Nyseth currently share the kitchen at Mom’s Pies. Nyseth moves about the kitchen in a sort of rhythm that she has perfected over her years baking pies—cutting this, stirring that, kneading this. And when she can’t find the spoon she needs to mix the dough together, Sangermano stops what he is doing and is right there to find one for her. He seems proud of the woman who has helped make Mom’s Pies what it is today.
Besides making pies, Nyseth likes to assume her other “mom” position and spend time with her six children, who all live in the area. Family, she says, is important to her. Nyseth describes herself as one of those people who enjoy every day to the fullest, whether it be baking pies at Mom’s or staying active by exercising and walking. “I really enjoy life,” Nyseth says. “I have a great joy for living.”
However, at 86, Nyseth is beginning to realize the hard work that goes into still baking pies everyday. Despite its being her passion, she has begun to limit herself to working just three hours a week. “It is very hard work, so it’s just enough,” she says. “I used to make around 40 pies a day when I worked a regular shift. Now the most I could make would be 24.”
“She’s great,” says Sangermano. “We are very lucky that she still wants to work.”
When the kneaded pie dough is ready, Nyseth begins to measure out bright red berries and crisp yellow apples for the filling of the next batch of pies. She is making raspberry-apple, her favorite flavor.