What a whirlwind! I had my first market on June 12 and brought 30 pies with me. In about an hour and a half I was sold out. If you have followed me up to this point, you know my plan this summer is to sell at the farmers market as a sole proprietor cottage food vendor, and grow from there. In one of my past posts I wrote about how to get started as a cottage food vendor. Since then I have figured out buying ingredients, tables, figuring out my tent situation and recently decided to go through PayPal for credit card purchases and invoicing (they sure make it easy!). I also made 30 pies the day before and morning of the market—it was insane, but in the best way possible. My little town is the best, and I appreciate those who supported me. I’m small and super local right now, and if my name gets out there it will be by word of mouth at this point.
The other vendors at the market were just awesome as well. St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store was the featured non-profit, and they were so supportive! They had a credenza left at their booth that didn’t sell and they gave it to me because they thought it would be perfect in the back of my booth. There is also a bakery/restaurant in town called Taste of Paris (such a great place), and the manager/daughter of the owner, who was in my high school graduating class, came out and bought some pies from me. The local support was welcoming and full of encouragement—I am full of gratitude, and once again, I feel as though I am lucky to have had this experience.
What I learned at my first market day
Making 30 pies is not easy! If you read through some of my recipes, you will see that I don’t take shortcuts with my pies. Like I wrote above, I’m small—one person small—and I can only produce what I can right now. I also want the pies to be fresh so I don’t want to make them days ahead of time. My plan right now is to produce what I can, and when I sell out, that’s it. As I figure this out, I know I will produce larger quantities, but it is essential that the quality is at my high standards.
I also learned that folks really liked the smaller sizes. Next time around I will do more of those for sure!
I was so busy that I took one photo. Not good. I rely on social media to get my name out there, and when I don’t show what I’m doing I’m losing out. I need to make sure to get some pictures of my booth and pies next time.
There are folks out there that are as passionate about pie as me. I had so much fun talking with customers about recipes, all-butter crusts, sour cherries, bourbon, pecans and everything else pie. I post my recipes because I want everyone to make, eat and share real deal pies.
Growing pains—I’m gonna be feeling them.
And you can go to the moon
But if you want something to change
You gotta change your life
And take your time
It just takes time
It just takes time
It just takes time
Hard work and your time
My next post will get more into the nitty gritty of cottage food/small business stuff, but I wanted to write down my experience while it was still fresh in my head.
What an overall awesome experience, I can’t wait to be back on June 26!
Pie crust. As a child, it was what I left on the plate. There was just something about the flavor—or lack thereof—that was not enticing. Bland, tough and chewy, I just didn’t get it. Give me the filling or give me a graham cracker crust.
Oh, how I’ve grown! Actually, it’s more like, I finally had good pie crust. Once I learned that the majority of shortening based crust just didn’t do it for my taste buds, I was inspired to make my own, and that’s when the—let’s say healthy—obsession with making my own perfect all-butter pie crust began. When I first decided to give this a go, I considered myself to be a pretty damn good home baker, but had never taken on pie crust. I was confident I would nail it, maybe even a little cocky about my overall skills. My first attempt was not a fail, it tasted alright, but the crust was chewy and definitely not Pinterest worthy. If I had a picture—I don’t—of that first pie, I would share it, I have no shame. That’s the great thing about baking, mistakes can help one master the process. For every crust mistake/disaster, I have figured out why it happened and was able to learn from it. I’m hoping that you can also learn from my mistakes.
For those of you who have screwed it up, added too much or too little water, didn’t chill or overworked the dough, hang in there. With each pie you will figure out the feel of it. It will start to come to you, like any skill, it takes practice.
If this is your first pie, or you don’t make many pies, and it doesn’t come out perfect, don’t get frustrated. Easier said than done, I know, I have had my fair share of freak outs. If you read my instructions and you want to talk about where in the process you struggled, reach out to me, let me know where it went wrong, and we will figure it out. When I was starting the pie thing, I remember having an issue with my dough cracking on the edges as I rolled it out. Frustrated, I watched a bunch of videos, and none of them helped me. Either the pastry chefs were really flipping good at rolling out dough or the video poster was not knowledgeable themselves and they shared a mediocre dough tutorial. I tried some of the things that I read and watched, but what ended up happening was that the more pie dough I made, the more I understood how it should look and feel at different stages. I just got much better at it. Shortening and lard is easier to work with, but I urge you not to give up. All-butter offers a better flavor, and once you start to figure it out you won’t go back. You will have a beautiful crust that tastes damn good. There will be no crust left on any plate.
Alright, this is getting long, and I think by this point you have figured out that I’m a fan of all-butter crust. So let’s get started making this thing. I will also be adding a video tutorial to show my entire process soon. For now, read through my process and the reasons for my methods. Do know, that if you start to do your own research, there are a lot of opinions out there. Some of that information is conflicting. Reading and experimenting is fun so it really is a matter of how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go.
Before we begin, I like to pray to the Pie God. Let me light my shrine and let’s kick some pie crust butt.
Before we start, let’s have a flour discussion! I like to use pastry flour because it makes for a more tender crust—less protein which means less gluten formation. It is trickier to handle. I recommend all-purpose for those who don’t make a lot of pies. I use King Arthur pastry flour, and I find it online. I haven’t found a local store that carries pastry flour so this works well for me. If you don’t use pastry flour, this pie will still be amazing and a crowd favorite. I did a test run of crusts with all-purpose and crusts with pastry flour, there was definitely a difference, and pastry was more tender. I will do a post on flour for pies in the coming weeks. I also want you to know that I am not being sponsored by any products that I endorse. I just like them, and I have found them to be worthy of a shout out.
All-Butter Pie Crust
This is for one 9” pie with a double or lattice crust. If you have an open pie with no top crust (like a crumble topping), cut amounts in half.
16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) white pastry flour (intermediate or advanced baker), or use all-purpose flour (10.5 ounces) for those who are getting more comfortable with all-butter crusts. Note: if you can’t get pastry flour, mix all-purpose flour with cake flour (1 part cake flour, 2 parts all-purpose) Here is a short video with some additional info.
1 teaspoon salt
4-10 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoon sugar (optional, personal preference)
It starts with very simple ingredients—deceivingly simple—flour, salt, butter and water. I add sugar because I just like it better. I seem to go back and forth on using a pastry blender versus a food processor for incorporating the butter, it just depends on my mood so I will discuss the use of both.
Pastry Blender to Incorporate Butter First, let me start with a suggestion. Don’t buy a cheap pastry blender. When I first started making pies, I bought one from my local grocery store and paid the price. After two uses, the handle kept falling apart, and I would have to incorporate the butter while trying to keep the handle together. Now I use a Spring Chef Dough Blender, and it is so much better. If you skipped the part above where I talk about flour, I am not being sponsored by any products that I endorse. I just like them, and I have found them to be worthy of a shout out.
1.) Add your flour to a medium size bowl (for true consistency, I weigh my flour and butter out, and I recommend that you do as well). If you don’t have a kitchen scale, no biggie, it will still be delicious, but you can find small ones for a reasonable price. If you are going to use measuring cups for the flour, you don’t want to pack the flour in or scoop your measuring cup into the flour. Instead, take a spoon to add the flour to the cup and a knife to sweep across removing the excess flour.
2.) Whisk in the salt and sugar (if you decide to add sugar) until well incorporated.
3.) Cut your cold butter into cubes. It is important that your butter is chilled, cold butter stops gluten formation (I’m going to warn you now, I’m gonna talk a lot about gluten in this post). Gluten is so necessary and so frustrating. You need that perfect balance of the dough staying together without too much gluten making your crust tough. If the butter is warm it will incorporate and melt into the flour, and then you won’t have those lovely flour coated chunks of butter that make for a beautiful flaky crust. There is nothing more infuriating to me than working my booty off to make a beautiful pie and my first bite is tough and chewy. A tough crust truly is my nemesis. Another tip, to keep things cold, I like to chill my bowl and pastry blender tool as well (I just put them in the freezer for a few minutes).
4.) Now it is time to cut the butter in using the pastry blender.
Spread the butter chunks throughout the flour mixture. Press the pastry blender down into the chunks and turn the blender slightly. I continue to do this until the flour covered butter chunks are the right consistency. I like to have a mealy consistency with lima bean size chunks for my pies, I find it to be a good flaky crust when the pie is fully baked.
Using a Food Processor Instead to Incorporate Butter
This means that I will now have the food processor to clean instead of just a medium size bowl, but a food processor is consistent and fast. However, you don’t get the same feel for the dough as a pastry blender. In the food processor add the flour, salt and sugar. Pulse to incorporate. Add cold, cubed butter and pulse until mealy, lima bean sized pieces. Once it is the right consistency, move mixture out of the food processor and into a medium-sized bowl.
Stir in Ice Water
Using a fork or spatula—don’t use your hands, it will warm up the butter— stir in four tablespoons of ice water. From here, add ice water one tablespoon at a time. Dough will start to come together but still be crumbly and should hold together when you squeeze it, but not be overly moist (too much water aids in gluten development—nemesis!) which causes a tough crust. This is why people have so many issues working with an all-butter crust, a great dough is barely being held together by the water, and can be hard to handle. Allowing it to chill in the refrigerator is what allows for the gluten to rest and for the dough to be rolled out more easily. There really is no need to add vodka or apple cider vinegar. Just practice it a bit, get the feel for it, don’t be intimidated by it. Don’t knead the dough—overworking the dough will also cause the butter to warm and gluten formation. Use the fork or spatula to gently stir the water in. You will see when it starts to stick together. Next, form the dough into a ball.
Form Into Disks and Chill in the Refrigerator
Cut dough ball in half. Form each half into a flat, even disk, cover in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours and up to 2 days (you can also freeze in a freezer bag for up to 3 months). The longer you can let the dough chill and rest ,the better. I like to make my dough the night before and let it chill overnight. It really does make a big difference when the crust bakes, it is very flaky and holds its shape better without shrinking.
If you are new to pies you will learn quickly that a pie can go into the oven looking gorgeous, but come out looking like a blob. You work hard to make a beautiful crimped edge, and when it comes out it looks like crap!! Or the side slumps down!! I have freaked out about this, and I’ve learned that not overworking and letting the dough rest in the fridge is key. Later I will talk about freezing the dough before putting into a hot oven to help with this as well.
Rolling out the dough
Sprinkle the counter and dust a rolling pin and your hands with flour. Place your chilled dough disk on the flour covered counter (if your dough warms up and becomes too sticky, even with flour, you can chill it in the fridge for an additional 15-20 minutes). Starting from the center of your disk, apply even, gentle pressure, and roll away from you.
Get a good rolling pin. I use a JK Adams 19-inch rolling dowel.Wirecutter, a New York Times Company, did reviews on rolling pins, and had this as one of their best picks. They mention it was not as good at rolling out circular dough, but I have no problems with that. This tool made a huge difference for me. When I first started doing this, I had a small pin with handles. It sucked. Don’t be like me, get a decent rolling pin, it will make your life so much easier.
Don’t roll back and forth in the same spot—instead roll outward and then turn dough clockwise. If you roll in the same spot you will most likely have uneven dough and gluten will develop. Again, gluten development causes your crust to get tough. Did I mention that tough crust is my nemesis? Continue to roll and then turn dough, using more flour when needed and flipping multiple times along the way, until you have an 11 inch diameter. Place the dough into a 9 inch pie pan. If your recipe calls for a blind bake—that means prebake—crust (scroll down for blind bake instructions), prick the bottom of the pie dough with a fork. This will allow the steam to escape and will keep the bottom from puffing up while in the oven. Put the pie pan in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. This will also keep your dough from slouching, and is very important.
If your dough is cracking on the edges—the dough may not have enough water (like I said before, this is a balance, you need enough to keep the dough together). The best way to add more water is with a spray bottle or a dab of water and work with your fingers to fix the crack (don’t overwork). Sometimes the dough is too cold, let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes before rolling. If my dough cracks I just blend it back together before cracks can get too big, it doesn’t freak me out like it did in the beginning.
There are so many creative things you can do to make your crust beautiful. My next post will be a tutorial on crust decor. Roll out your second disk of dough and have some fun! I love braiding the crust, traditional crimping is always gorgeous, leaf or flower cutouts, and the list goes on and on. You can be as creative as you want! If you are baking berry pies, a double crust is nice because it keeps the moisture from evaporating out, but make it yours. It is important that you move the pie pan with dough into the freezer for at least 20 minutes before putting in the oven on a hot cookie sheet. This is what will help the crust keep its shape and size while baking.
My apple crumble with decorative roses before the oven.
Apple Crumble with roses, baked.
Triple Berry Pie with Ginger. Braided and cutouts for crust decor.
Pecan Pie with leaf cutout crust.
Blind Baking Blind baking is essential to many pies, and a soggy crust is just as frustrating as a tough crust. Blind baking helps to take care of sogginess or an under baked crust by partially or fully baking it before adding the filling. Some dessert pies, like French Silk, call for a fully baked crust before adding the filling, and some pies need a partial blind bake before the filling is added. With a custard pie, the moisture in the filling can make the crust soggy before it has time to actually bake. Blind baking the crust until it’s half-baked helps the crust stay firm. The other nice thing is that you can blind bake the day before—up to 24 hours—before adding the filling. It should be stored at room temperature (no fridge!). Just cover loosely and leave on your counter.
1.) Preheat oven, 425 degrees F. with a cookie sheet in the oven.
2.) At this point you should have your dough in the pan, and it should be coming out of the freezer (you should have pricked the dough with a fork—also called docking— before putting in the freezer). It is important that after rolling out the dough and putting it in the pie pan that you let the dough rest in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. This helps the dough keep its shape and will also help with it slumping or shrinking too much. I know I am repeating myself, but it is only because this is an important step. Line the dough with foil. I use foil because I can also use it as a pie shield for the crust. It will stop the crust from getting too much color on the blind bake, especially for pies like chocolate cream or french silk, where you are looking for a lighter golden crust.
3.) Fill the foil with pie weights, dried beans or my favorite, granulated sugar. Folks even use pennies. You need weight so that the bottom of the crust won’t puff up too much and so the crust does not slump. I bought pie weights, but you need a lot of them, and I prefer sugar because I can fill the pan to the top, and I think this helps even more with keeping the crust from shrinking/slumping.
4.) Transfer the crust to the oven and place on the hot cookie sheet. Bake the crust for 15 minutes.
5.) Remove the foil and weights, then return it to the oven for 5-15 minutes. For a partially baked crust you want it to still be a paler color on the bottom, compared to a fully baked crust which should be golden brown. You will leave a fully baked crust in for longer than the partial.
FRUIT PIES AND POTENTIAL SOGGY BOTTOM PROBLEMS
Bake Pie on a Cookie Sheet at Higher Temp to Stop a Soggy Crust When I bake my apple or berry pies I choose not to do a blind bake. Instead, to stop the dreaded soggy bottom, I take my pie plate from the freezer, add my filling and then put the pie directly onto a hot cookie sheet in a very hot oven, 425 degrees F. After 20 minutes, I lower the oven temp to 375 degree F. For my berry pie, I take my pie plate out of the freezer, add the filling, add my top crust, and then freeze the whole pie for at least 20 minutes before putting on the hot cookie sheet. This really works! The hot cookie sheet bakes the bottom of the pie crust and stops that soggy bottom. I bake all pies on a hot cookie sheet, not just fruit pies. Cooks Illustrated did a segment on this too.
That’s it for now! I will be doing a post on decorative crust soon, and I will be adding a video to this as well.
I have had two market days since my last post, and now that these are done, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my surrounding community.
It all started with my first major hick-up as a cottage food vendor, and it was out of my control like so much of life is. Right now, I am only selling at my local farmer’s market every other week. I’m a tiny operation—I bake out of my kitchen, making around 35-40 pies total per market day, and let me tell ya, that probably doesn’t seem like a lot to many of you, but homemade pies are pretty intense to make. There are multiple steps, with various fillings and it can get overwhelming quick. I bake my pies the day before and the morning of, and when I received the first email about the possibility of the market not opening on June 26 due to severe weather, I had to think through what I should do.
The 5 stages of being a vendor when the farmer’s market is cancelled (especially when you have perishable goods and this is the only place you sell!)
The weather is fine, this will pass. I’m sure it will still open and I won’t be stuck with 35 pies after baking for two days straight.
2.) Panic Nope, the market is not opening, it’s official. What to do? So many pies, so many freaking pies! Maybe we can have a pie throwing competition?!
Looks like I’m just gonna have to eat all of these pies.
Well, sh*t, it’s all good. I mean, I’m sure Tom will be fine with me eating all of these pies and gaining 50 pounds.
5.) Let’s make this happen Alright, seriously, I need to get rid of these pies. Let’s figure out a plan B.
My new plan was to post it on my Lakebilly Pies and the local lake community Facebook pages. I figured I would either deliver them or have folks come by my house to pick them up, and if I didn’t get anyone wanting to buy pies, I would find a local homeless shelter and drop them off and take the loss. The response from my community was awesome—what I especially loved was meeting neighbors that I had never met before, and that they wanted to support me by buying pies. I also had customers from the week before, my work colleagues and friends all buy pies. It took about an hour, but once again I had a sell out day, and I am so thankful that I had the support of everyone to make this happen. How cool is that!
After it was all said and done, I felt love for my community, friends and family. I have such awesome people in my corner. I grew up in Sylvan Lake, and I’m back because it is a special place to live—this experience reinforced that for me.
July 3 Market Day
This past Tuesday I had another market day. I’m excited to report that I sold out in 90 minutes, even after upping the amount of pies. With my preorders I ended up making 44 total, and I had a blast handing out samples and talking to customers about what I do. Pie is nostalgic for a lot of people—I love when they try a sample, look at my ingredients and are excited to have a legit homemade pie. I wouldn’t say that pies are a dying art, but it’s not easy to find a good one for sale, and my customers recognize this.
You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.
I am getting more and more excited about this endeavor every day. At this point, it’s exactly what I need in my life, and I’m excited to see where this journey is going to lead us. If it keeps up like this, Tom and I are going to have to sit down and hash out what’s next for Lakebilly—I want to be able to provide pies for everyone I can, selling out is a good problem to have, but I’m hoping I can up my production a bit more.
“Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.”
I know that this has been done before. Ya know, the old cherry pie with Twin Peaks references, but I can’t help myself. Twin Peaks is one of my all-time favorite shows, and Agent Cooper is one of my all-time favorite characters. I’m left with a lot of questions after the season three finale—who isn’t—but this is not about my thoughts on what the hell Lynch means by, well, all of it—I’m gonna stick to cherry pie. Here’s also hoping to a season four.
I would be doing a disservice to Agent Cooper, myself and Lakebilly Pies if I didn’t have a killer cherry pie on the menu, and I have to say this one is good. I’m not kiddin’ ya, this pie is REALLY good—and simple. It’s so good that my mom, who hates most things, and does not like cherries, loves this pie.
What makes it so good? First off, my all-butter crust, secondly, the cherries, and finally, a splash of bourbon–which rounds out the sour from the cherries and the sweetness from the sugar. Now, if you can get fresh sour morello cherries, that is the way to go, but they are only in season for a short period of time, about a month. I’m really lucky, I live in the midwest so when they are in season I can get them.
“I plan on writing an epic poem about this gorgeous pie.”
But what does one do if fresh cherries are not a viable option? After a bunch of reading, I discovered that the best choice for out of season sour cherries are jarred vs. frozen. In fact, Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries are the mother flippin’ best. It seems that frozen sour cherries are just too delicate and don’t freeze well. I really loved these Trader Joe’s cherries in my pie, and I highly recommend them for your cherry pie as well. They come in a light syrup—I know there are folks out there that are jar/canned syrup averse, but compared to frozen, I think the light syrup actually helped with the overall taste of my pie.
You will see some pies that call for sweet cherries, and you can bake with any variety, but sour, and especially morello, are the way to go for that classic cherry pie flavor. Sour cherries (also called tart) tossed in sugar, cinnamon and bourbon are totally worthy of epic poem status.
16 tablespoons (8 ounces or two sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) white pastry flour (intermediate or advanced baker), or use all-purpose flour (10 1/2 ounces) for those who are getting more comfortable with all-butter crusts. Note: if you can’t get pastry flour, mix all-purpose flour with cake flour (1 part cake flour, 2 parts all-purpose) Here is a short video with some additional info.
1 teaspoon salt
4-10 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons sugar (optional, personal preference)
16 ounces (about 4 1/2 cups) fresh morello cherries (pitted and rinsed), or if fresh are out of season, 1 1/3 jars (16 ounces) drained Trader Joe’s dark morello cherries
1 cup (7.1 ounces or 200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
1 tablespoon bourbon
Sugar in the raw (demerara sugar) for sprinkling on top crust
In a food processor add flour, salt and sugar. Pulse to incorporate. Add cold, cubed butter and pulse until mealy, lima bean sized pieces (If you do not have a food processor, you can use a pastry blender and a medium size bowl to incorporate ingredients). Once it is the right consistency, move mixture out of the food processor and into a medium-sized bowl. Stir in water, using a fork, one tablespoon at a time. Dough should hold together when you squeeze it, but not be overly moist (too much water aids in gluten development which causes a tough crust, tough crust is my nemesis). Form the dough into a ball and slice down the middle into two even parts. Form each part into a flat, even disk, cover in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours and up to two days. Overnight is always best, this will help the gluten rest and the dough will not be tough and it will help keep its shape while baking.
Step 2 Grind two tablespoons of instant tapioca—I use a coffee grinder for a finer finished product, but you can use a blender or food processor as well (food processor/blender won’t grind the tapioca as well). By doing this you won’t have crystals of tapioca in your pie.
In a medium-sized bowl combine sugar, tapioca and cinnamon (or if you are grinding the tapioca in a food processor you can use that to combine all ingredients). Place cherries in a medium-sized bowl and add sugar mixture. Add bourbon and toss gently. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, the juices will run from the cherries.
Preheat oven with a cookie sheet inside to 425 degrees F. Baking a pie on a cookie sheet prevents a dreaded soggy bottom, it also catches any juices that bubble over.
While cherries are sitting, sprinkle counter and dust a rolling pin and your hands with flour. Place one chilled dough disk on the flour covered counter (if your dough warms up and becomes too sticky, even with flour, you can chill it in the fridge for an additional 15-20 minutes). Starting from the center of your disk, apply even, gentle pressure, and roll away from you. Don’t roll back and forth in the same spot—instead roll outward and then turn dough clockwise. If you roll in the same spot you will most likely have uneven dough and gluten will develop. Again, gluten development causes your crust to get tough. Did I mention that tough crust is my nemesis? Continue to roll and then turn dough, using more flour when needed and flipping multiple times along the way, until you have an 11 inch diameter. Place the dough into a 9 inch pie pan. Roll out the second disk for the top crust as you did the first. The second disk should be a bit larger (10-11 inches) than the 9 inch diameter of the pie tin so that you can tuck the top crust and crimp the edges.
Using a large spoon, scoop up cherry filling and place into the dough filled pie pan (leave most of the juice in the bowl if you don’t want a lot of it spilling out when sliced—it will look like the top picture in this post. I like to scoop up the cherries and if some of the juice comes along with it, that seems to be the perfect amount).For a crimped edge, brush the rim of dough in the pie plate with water. This helps seal the top and bottom crusts together. Now, take the second disk and cover the the top of the pie. Using scissors, kitchen sheers or even a knife, remove the excess dough leaving a 1/2-inch border hanging over the pie tin. Tuck the dough overhang underneath itself fitting the edge of the pie pan all the way around the pie, forming a thicker dough border. Crimp the edges of the crust—press your thumb from the inside of the rim into the edge of the dough while pressing back with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand from outside of the rim. Work your way around the entire edge until completely crimped. Place the entire pie in the freezer for 20 minutes. This will help it keep its shape while baking.
Covering cherry and berry pies keeps the moisture in while cooking, and I highly recommend a double or tighter lattice crust for this pie. I usually do a few cutouts before putting the top crust on, but you can also do traditional knife slits to let steam escape through the top crust. You can be creative with the top crust. You don’t want to do a crimped edge? Try a braided, or use a fork, or cutouts, be creative!
Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees F., then reduce heat to 375 degrees F. and bake for 40 minutes.
Cool on a cooling rack to room temperature before serving. You want to wait 3-4 hours before serving.
The crust should not get too dark, but if you think it is, you can can add aluminum foil as a pie shield to stop it from darkening too much.
Interesting fact: The log lady, Catherine Coulson, passed away a few years back. Her grave has a picture of two hands holding a log. This is fantastic.
I’m not sure anyone will care about our story, but in a world where we have to navigate through a lot of daily bullshit, sometimes it’s nice to read about a love story that actually works. That, and we are trying to start a business—so that’s something. It’s strange to put this in writing, and even weirder to write about myself, but for those of you who are interested, I think Tom and I have an entertaining tale. One of friends who reconnected and started dating years after losing touch.
I don’t typically write about these types of things, but it was fun to document, and maybe you’ll enjoy reading about us. This is not as much about building my pie business, but instead, it’s about a love story, and where the decisions we have made together have led us.
When Tom and I met, we were in graduate school in the Sports Administration program at Valparaiso University, a tiny liberal arts school in Northwest Indiana. I loved my time at Valpo, a school known by many for Bryce Drew’s last second shot during their ’98 NCAA March Madness appearance. As an athlete myself, it’s all I ever knew of the school before being recruited to play there. They upset Ole Miss and went on to win their second round game against Florida State before losing in the Sweet Sixteen to Rhode Island. “The Shot” is famous enough that it gets replayed every year during the Men’s March Madness Tournament and Axe Body Spray parodied it in one of their commercials a few years back. It was something about Axe Apollo and an astronaut showing up on the court after the shot was made and stealing the show—it’s stupid, I know, but shows that this moment in time was a pretty big deal for college basketball. Writing this much about Axe Body Spray makes me feel like a dumbass, which I probably am.
Valparaiso University is much more than that Bryce Drew shot. It’s a school that motivates its students to care about their surroundings and the world—I met a lot of really good people there. As college is for many, it was a place for me to figure myself out. At times I was mature for my age, other times I was very, VERY stupid, but I was able to navigate living away from home, and Valpo was a relatively safe place for me to learn to do so. I was lucky enough to get a full-ride athletic scholarship to a school that would not have been an affordable option for me. I’m 6’2” so that doesn’t hurt in the volleyball world. I also met one of my closest friends, Marion, in undergrad. We were teammates, roommates, and goofballs. I bring her up because I wanted an excuse to show this picture of Marion, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about our friendship in the future.
I was all about volleyball, had just finished as a player, and was transitioning to a graduate assistant volleyball coach for the program I once played for. Tom was also a graduate assistant—an athletic trainer. He came from northern Maryland, and Indiana was a bit of a culture shock to him. We didn’t know each other that first year, but early on in the summer, a mutual friend invited us to the Indiana Dunes to hang out at the beach for the day. I was moving out of the house I had lived in for the first year of the program, and brought up that I needed a new roommate. Tom mentioned that he could use one too, and just like that, we decided to find an apartment together.
I’ve always been spontaneous, but was especially so in my early 20’s—who wasn’t at that age—but I could also be a lot to handle, and I had a hell of an attitude when pushed. Looking back, it’s no surprise that Tom and I decided to become roommates on a whim, and from there, friends. I was curious about Tom, he was a quirky dude, and piqued my interest—I always liked folks with quick wits and strange senses of humor, and Tom fit that mould. It was early on as roommates that we went to a show in Indy together. I think it was night three that he asked me to go with him to see a band he liked called Gil Mantera’s Party Dream.
Get up, stand up, be a soul commander.
He told me years later that he realized halfway down to Indy, I might not be down for this type of thing. Spoiler alert—I was, and we had a blast. It was a ridiculous show, and I drank, laughed and danced my ass off. It’s too bad that Gil and the Ultimate Donny don’t perform anymore, I think folks started to take them too seriously or something.
We lived in the Maison Royale apartments in a two bedroom walkup. Not sure why anyone would consider these apartments royal homes, but hell, it was a great place for two students in a graduate program, and we had a silly, fun year together. I used to drink beer with an old man at the community pool almost every day when it was warm—those were good times—and he supplied the beer so even better. This is when Tom and I became friends. Not friends with benefits, and no messing around on the side—real deal friends. We got a cat together, and named her Marzipan—she’s named after the Homestar Runner character not the almond dessert. Even today, Homestar makes me crack up, I especially love the Pumpkin Carve-nival episode.
By the end of our Master’s program, it was time for Tom to go back to Maryland, and I stayed in Valpo for a bit with a new roommate, my buddy Carolyn. Carolyn now has a much older Marzipan—she’s still kickin’! I also decided that I didn’t want to be a volleyball coach anymore and stumbled into the nonprofit sector. Up until this point, volleyball was an enormous part of my life. I had put so many years into it, and I was knowledgable, but tired of it, and I wanted a change. Little did I know, Tom also changed careers in Maryland. He no longer wanted to be an athletic trainer and switched to being an operations manager for a company that put on large-scale running events, lacrosse and beach volleyball tournaments.
I always wonder what would have happened if we dated while roommates in school. Would we have worked? I don’t think so. We were both immature and headstrong individuals.
Soon after Tom left for home, I moved to Chicago for an Irish bar owner who was 15 years older than me—yeah, I know what you are thinking. He was fun and hilarious, but as you might guess, too old for me, and it only lasted for a few years and fizzled out. I don’t regret a second of that relationship, it was right for me at that time in my life. I also really liked that he was a small business owner. My years after dating the Irish bar owner were a wild ride, but also a time when I needed to act stupid in the city with my friends. I’m going to fast forward through that part of the story, believe me when I say it’s best for all.
Five years had gone by from the time Tom moved back to Maryland and when we reconnected. We hadn’t talked since Valpo, and I didn’t have his cell number, we only had Facebook as a way to communicate. I was working at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, and I traveled all over the country to meet with alumni and organize gatherings for them. Sometimes Tom would enter my thoughts, even after years of not talking. I specifically remember going to a show that was featuring a band made of robots, and thinking, Tom would like this. I guess that was enough of a reason to message him before a work trip to D.C. I was organizing an alumni outing at a Nationals vs. Cubs game, and thought, what the hell, I should ask Tom to come. I wasn’t expecting anything out of it, I just wanted to catch up with my old friend. So I reached out, and he replied. He had a big race coming up so he couldn’t make the game but wanted to find another way to hang out. We set up a brunch meet-up before I had to leave for the airport.
It was a day game, and afterwards I met a friend who had moved to the area a year before. I stayed out all night drinking in D.C., and looking back, I was a hot mess during that time period. I didn’t have his cell phone number, the hotel was an hour away, and I was supposed to meet Tom at 9 a.m. Thank goodness my friend was willing to drive an hour out of their way to drop me off. I was meeting Tom in the lobby, and I can only imagine what I must have looked like when he saw me roll up. Strangely enough, it was from this moment that something changed between us. We ate and caught up at a diner by the airport, it was fun and goofy, just like it had been back in the day. After he dropped me off at the airport, we kept in touch over the summer, and I started to think, if only he wasn’t so far, maybe we would work. Then that Halloween, he texted me that he wanted to come visit over New Year’s, and I, of course, said that he should.
So my bud, Lauren, and I planned a night out in Chicago. Tom and I didn’t care where we were or who was playing, I can’t even remember most of that night, but I do remember Tom kissing me for the first time at midnight. How cliché can you get, I know, but it was the damn cutest thing ever.
We spent the rest of the weekend watching Tim and Eric and doing stupid touristy stuff in Chicago. It was fantastic. I found out that Tom always had a thing for me, and even though I may not have understood it, I always had a thing for him as well.
I moved to Maryland less than 6 months later—I told you I could be spontaneous. I landed a job working for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, packed my bags and headed east. I went from my cute apartment in the Old Irving neighborhood to a duplex in the middle of nowhere northern Maryland. Our neighbor was a goofball and liked to collect junk and leave it in his yard. Our other neighbors had goats that ran around the back and a deer head hung in the tree, it was an interesting transition for me.
After the lease was up, we moved to an awesome little house outside of Baltimore in Howard County. It was in the middle of the woods, on environmentally protected land, right on the border of the Patapsco State Park. Our nights consisted of grilling, listening to music and hanging on our deck. We loved that place. The owners of that house owned a ton of land back there, and when I asked if they would ever consider selling their little red cottage, they laughed. We knew then this was not a forever place for us, but we enjoyed it while we were there.
Then one day, an old work connection informed me about a job opening at a university in Chicago. I thought, why not try? MDA had recently closed a bunch of offices, and I was a bit worried about job security. Tom and I talked it over, and he encouraged me to go for it. He told me that he would move to Chicago with me if I landed the job. Even though I was really enjoying Maryland, there were times that I missed Chicago, and if you haven’t guessed, I ended up applying and getting the job. Now it was his turn to be open-minded and spontaneous. This is why we work so well together, he was all about it. He liked his job, but didn’t love it, and this was an opportunity to do something else so he jumped in with both feet. I think that is pretty damn cool, a man who isn’t afraid to drop his successful job to check out a new city with his then serious girlfriend.
After being in the city for a bit we decided to make it official and get married. We took a road trip for our honeymoon. Started in Nashville, off to Gatlinburg, and finally Asheville, NC.
Afterwards, we started thinking about buying a house. Tom and I enjoyed living in the city, but he is a country boy at heart—I guess he missed the hanging deer head in the backyard or maybe the inner city pressure just became too much.
One day, while visiting my parents in Lake County we started to talk about a home that went up for sale in the neighborhood. I started to daydream about living in a cottage on the water, and when I brought it up to Tom, he was excited about the possibility as well. Sylvan Lake is a special place—it’s a lake community, but primarily middle class. I never dreamt that I would be able to own a house on the water, but with our combined incomes we could just barely make it work. The house was built in the 1930’s, we love vintage charm, and needs some cosmetic updates, but is in overall good shape. We’ve now been here for more than a year, and we LOVE lake life. It’s like being on vacation the second you come home from work. We have a pretty big yard and find ways to garden, canoe, fish, float in tubes, and the list goes on. We also have three insane cats. Sometimes we just sit in our hammock together and watch the bats fly over us at dusk, and there are owls that hang out in our yard and keep us up at a night. We want to take on bee keeping and get chickens in the near future. My parents live down the street, and it’s—mostly—fun to have them around. It’s true lakebilly living, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
12 years after first meeting and 7 years after that first kiss on New Year’s, I look back at our lives and our decisions to this point, and I think about how lucky we are. Tom is all about me being me, and I am all about him being him. We really talk to each other, and laugh a lot. If you end up with a guy like Tom, a warning, every Saturday you will wake up, come down the stairs, and 80’s wrestling will be on the TV. When I say every weekend, I mean it, and I love it and I love him. Tom is the Cream of the Crop.
When I say Tom is into wrestling, I actually mean he is obsessed. Currently, he is really into Smoky Mountain Wrestling which was out of Appalachia in the 90’s and was run by Jim Cornette. My wrestling knowledge has increased leaps and bounds since being with Tom. Wanna talk about Mid-South Wrestling? Yeah, I can hold my own in that conversation, bring it.
When we first arrived in Chicago I started up at Northeastern Illinois University and Tom was unemployed. He really likes hockey so when he arrived in the city he started volunteering at Chicago Steel games out by O’Hare Airport. Chicago Steel is a hockey team and members of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He also got a job doing beer tastings for a local beer distributor and took on a dog walking gig (he walked dogs during the polar vortex, no joke). He started to homebrew beer, and was a natural at it. He entered his first competition and one 3rd in his category at the Charlie Orr Memorial Chicago Cup Challenge.
Although moving to a new city with no job is scary it also gave him the freedom to figure out what he wanted to do. He mentioned that he really liked homebrewing and doing the beer tastings, and I encouraged him to find a way into the beer industry.
Sometimes life introduces you to truly good people. Our friend, Jim, is one of those people, and so is his wife Nancy. Jim was my coworker at Northeastern, an avid home brewer and National ranked judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program. He knew me from work, and when I told him that my boyfriend was looking for a job in the beer industry, he connected Tom with his friend, Bob, from his homebrewers club. Bob was the manager for a malt warehouse in South Holland, Ill., and had an opening for a lead shift manager. Jim barely knew Tom, and did this because he is a nice person. It is our life goal to be more like Jim and Nancy. Tom jumped at the opportunity, and this was the beginning of his career in the beer world.
I know I’m talking about my husband, and that I’m biased, but Tom is a smart man, and is also not scared of hard work. After working at the warehouse for a year, he emailed a bunch of breweries asking to get in the door any way possible. He ended up landing a job at Half Acre on the packaging line, and was eventually moved to shipping. Half Acre was a great place for him. He was able to be goofy and himself—they just really embrace that there. After being at Half Acre for a year, Goose Island reached out to him about the resume he had sent when he gave resumes to a bunch of breweries the year before. They were looking for a Brewer I position to be filled, and needed someone to work in their barrel warehouse. Tom couldn’t pass this up, his goal was to be a brewer and this was the next step to be able to do that. Goose was also a great place for him, and the people were terrific there too. The brewing industry seems to be filled with mostly cool people who let you be your weird self. Not that I can’t be where I am at, but it’s not the same—sometimes I get a little jealous.
When we moved to Lake County, the drive to Goose became intense. Tom was starting to go a little bonkers with that commute, and he decided to try to get a job closer to home. He is now an Assistant Brewer at Half Day Brewing, about 15 minutes away from our house. This also became another step up in his brewing career. Half Day is a brewpub so it is small, and he works alongside the head brewer, Brandon—the two of them make it happen. I have to give Brandon props, the beer is really good.
I’m really proud of Tom. Not many people can completely reinvent themselves and learn a new trade so quickly. It’s pretty awesome to watch him figure it out.
My story is that of a home baker. Baking is therapeutic to me. I love working with my hands, I love how precise and scientific it can be, and I love making something beautiful. I also like that it’s temporary, an art that gets eaten and enjoyed. It reminds me of the same feeling I had as an athlete—not the getting eaten part. Mastering anything takes time and practice, and I enjoy learning new skills. I am just starting to explore this as a career, Tom definitely has a jump on me, but I’m catching up quick.
Although I have been baking since I was a child, pie is relatively new to me. I started right around 2 years ago. At first, I gave a traditional apple pie with an all-butter crust a try. It was for a friends party and it ended up OK, but I overworked the dough and I didn’t use temperature control. It was kind of a mushy mess, and when you cut into the pie it spilled everywhere. It was from there that I read, then baked a pie and then read some more. I have learned from every pie since. I would share my apple pie with everyone who would have some, and eventually started to receive rave reviews. Family and friends are nice though, and it was hard for me to know if it was actually that good, or if they were just giving me an ego boost. That’s when I decided to enter a competition for apple pies, and ended up winning. It was a local town apple fest competition, but nonetheless, my pie was tasty enough to win, and that was what really hooked me. I seriously dream about baking now, and it makes me happy.
I’ve always seen myself as a small business owner, I know this is going to be hard, but at this point, it doesn’t even feel like work. I think that has to be a good sign, and starting a business in baking is the right move for me.
$1,000 and a dream
Our story leads us to this moment. Tom and I are betting on ourselves, and we will see where this leads us. Like every decision we make together, we know what we want and like, and work to find ways to make it happen. Sometimes it evolves into something unexpected, but it’s always an adventure, and I’m lucky to have a man who is willing to join me on this ride.
We are starting off small. We have $1,000 to get things off the ground, and I’m starting at farmers’ markets and using shared commercial kitchen space so I can cater weddings and events. Tom and I are all about organic growth and providing the best product. Like I was with volleyball, I don’t want to be mediocre, I want to make the best damn pie I possibly can because it is fun and exciting to master something, and watch others enjoy what I have created. I know he is the same about beer.
It’s fun to share why I think we work as a couple, and also why we have chosen to go into these industries. Tom and I get called “artsy” a lot, I’m not sure if that is what we are, but I do think we both find joy in being creative. I also think we don’t always fit into traditional work settings, and this is an awesome outlet for us to make a living being us, and we can be our own bosses. We are also lucky enough to have day jobs that don’t suck and pay the bills. We may be starting off with $1,000 for this new adventure, but we are taking calculated risks and we will both keep our day jobs.
Where do we see ourselves in a few years—as the brewer and the baker enjoying lake life. Whatever this becomes it will be ours, as of right now we see a small brewery and pie shop, but as always, we are open to all the possibilities.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed with how lucky I am to have found Tom, and to have lived the life I have.
I love our lives—Tom and I say this to each other a lot. Let’s see where this venture takes us.