"In all of living have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured!"
~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Pie Machine

In lieu of Thanksgiving being this week - and the fact that I work for Costco's Bakery - I have temporarily been turned into a pie making machine. The bakery is open 24/7 the 7 days leading up to Thanksgiving Day just to keep up with the demands for fresh baked pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, dinner rolls, specialty bread, pumpkin spice bread and muffins, and all of our other bakery items that people buy tons of to feed the masses of friends and family they'll be having over for the Holidays.

My shift this Thanksgiving was the 3:20-11:50 pm shift. One of the pie shifts. Blah. This hasn't exactly done wonders for my sleep schedule. I've been getting home around 12:20 am and eating breakfast and wasting time before finally getting to bed, and then sleeping in really late, and heading off to work again.

Something I wrote one night/morning this week about the beginning to one of my many wonderful shifts:
I parked in the back by the back door we come out of at midnight, and rushed across the massive parking lot, hurried to the fridge to leave my lunch, and then to my locker to drop off my purse and pick up my hat and name tag, and punched in just barely in time. The night had begun. I made the mistake of leaving my hoodie in my locker the first 2 nights, and I made sure I did NOT do that again. They turn the heat off at night, and with all the refrigerated stuff in the produce, dairy, deli, and meat departments (plus it being winter) it gets nice and chilly! We're not allowed to wear jackets or anything back in the bakery when we're working with food directly, but just having it to wear while walking back and forth from the time clock at the front of the store, and the bakery in the back, makes it worth it!
The rest of my 3:20 - 11:50 shift and I all met up around the bakery sink to put on our hats and hairnets and wash our hands before starting our shift, and the bakery manager singled me out as he walked by. "Karin, how are you doing? Are you ok?" "um, yes? I'm good?". Then a couple of seconds later a cake decorator looked over and asked, "Karin, are you feeling ok? What's wrong with you?", followed by another coworker's greeting, "Did you just wake up or something? You look...more minimalistic that usual today". Haha remember that post where I said everything I think or feel usually can be read right off my face? Well I guess my dissatisfaction with my job and overall unhappiness of working like crazy over the holidays is showing. Oh well, I intend to make this my last holiday season working retail ever!

The 3:20-11:50 pm shift starts pretty much like normal. Finish up some muffins and cookies, make sure the products out on the sales floor look pretty, yada yada yada for about an hour or two. It's once that stuff gets finished that the real night begins. Pumpkin pie mania! The pie press is a super cool contraption that makes a perfect pie crust in just seconds! You drop a pre-measured blog of dough in the center of the pie pan, set it in the machine, press the two levers, it presses the hot top and bottom pieces together and voila! A pie crust! One or two people each shift get assigned to be pie pressers, and they just press pie crusts the whole time. The machine has to be going all night and most of the day to crank out enough pie crusts.

We mix up our pumpkin pies fresh every day in these huge mixing bowls probably big enough to hold me. One bowl holds enough filling for about 90 pumpkin pies, and we make over 20 bowlfuls every night! Once they've got enough pie crusts, the boys scoop the filling into the crusts, and load them onto our huge metal racks. 30 pans, 3 pies per pan, 90 pies. Then the full rack gets pushed over into one of our many monster-sized ovens to bake for over an hour, and then cool for a bit before being pushed into our freezer that's the size of a huge living room for another 45 minutes or so to expedite the cooling process.

this rack only holds 24 pans and only has 2 pies per pan...so 48 total. Ours have 90. We're cooler :)

When the pies are finally not hot anymore, we wrappers take over! I'm easily the smallest person in the entire bakery...so I usually send someone bigger to get the racks out of the freezer. With 30 pans each weighing nearly 5 lbs., 90 pies weighing about 4 lbs. apiece, not to mention the weight of the metal rack itself, that's like almost 500 lbs per rack to push around! And it only gets harder when the wheels freeze while the pies are getting un-hot, and the tread of your shoes is jam packed with food and you can't get a good grip on the floor. Our job is to make sure the new racks of pies end up in the freezer to cool, take out the cooled pies, put them in the white plastic tubs as fast as we can without breaking the crusts, throw away the ugly pies, snap on the lids, send them through the shrink-wrapping machine, put on the labels, stack them on wooden pallets 9 layers high (they have to be stacked exactly right or the weight of the pies will crush the packaging and smash the pies on the bottom), wrap the entire pallet in plastic wrap so none of the 99 pies fall off while we drag it around the store, make signs with the sell-by date so we can make sure we don't end up with a bunch of old pies at the end, and tote the pallet of pies off to a refrigerated trailer where they get to live until the store gets mobbed in the morning. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over....you get the idea...non-stop until morning!

It's tedious and repetitive, not to mention it makes your body ache from all the bending, lifting, pulling, and all that other good stuff that we get to do. I usually give everyone countdown updates till our punch out time every time I look at the clock. All night long. I'm such a terrible person, making time drag, but seriously the thought of going-home-time getting closer and closer is the happy thought I need to get through our 8 1/2 hour shift! There are a couple cool things about working so late though.

For one thing, once the customers start clearing out (8:30ish), we get to crank up the music. The first few days it was like a Kesha/Lady Gaga/Katy Perry/radio hits dance party. That was cool I guess, but after hearing the same songs several times a day for a couple days it got kind of old. Then yesterday it was like screamo rock band/guitar hero craziness. I guess that's what we get for just complaining about the music instead of bringing our own? The Sound of Music started playing at the end though...randomly...

Another fun thing is that we all punch in and out at the same time, so we end up taking our breaks at the same time and we're the only ones in the whole gigantic warehouse, so basically, we own the place.

Once we finally reach the end of our shift (which by this point I have been announcing countdowns for like every 5 minutes for the past 2 hours...) we hurry and try to mop up most of the bright orange raw pumpkin pie mix that's spattered all over the floor and the pie-pourer's pants and shoes before the midnight - 8 am crew comes in, and run to the front of the store to punch out. Then we get to make a mass exit out the back door, and scrape all the ice off our cars and go home. Finally! Yay!

All in all this year's Thanksgiving baking adventure was much better than last year's, and I'll even admit, I did enjoy parts of it. Not so much the first 2 or 3 days, but the last couple of days definitely got better. And yes, I did actually have a bit of fun :) That being said, I'm tired of being a pie machine! And I can't wait to go back to being a human now! Well...until the week of Christmas anyways.

In case anyone has a hankering to know more about Costco pies, I found 3 links you might find interesting Here and Here and Here.
Some fun and not-so-fun memories from this past week of pre-Thanksgiving work:
- the other day me, Tyler, Craig, and Blaine all randomly decided to wear green shirts almost the exact same shade. Our white bakery aprons were missing, and we had to wear red food court aprons, so we were all unintentional matchy matchy Christmas watermelon friends!
- there is a Clavinova type electric piano on display at Costco that plays music, and it got left on all night the other day. So there was this eerie synthesized harpsicordesque Mozart music echoing around in the huge cold dark empty warehouse
- I came home and ate breakfast at midnight a couple times. Egos with cinnamon maple syrup one time, and frosted flakes and Life another
- Trevor worked until 4 am last night, so after work I picked him up on his lunch break and we went to Wendy's and ate a frosty with fries in my truck before he went back to work :)
- In the random mix of music that played today, one of them was a Christmas song (Jingle Bells? I forget) made from cats meowing at different pitches
- today before we closed a little boy in a shopping cart was singing to the tune of Clementine "Oh my monster, oh my monster, oh my monster Frankenstien, you are very very scary..." and I didn't hear any more because I was laughing. It was so cute! Then a minute or so later, a lady walked by going the other direction humming Clementine. I'm guessing she heard him singing near the produce section and got it stuck in her head too :)

for the sake of not plagiarizing, I got the pictures from the first linked article, and http://pievcake.wordpress.com/tag/pumpkin-pie/
and http://www.ocregister.com/sections/printer/photo/?id=275613&pic=19

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