Posted On: 07/27/2012
In this monthís Five Questions column (page 50), we spoke with Pie Oh My!ís Jane Callahan about her seasonal pies, her soon-to-open storefront and whether itís high time we make room for the pie trend in St. Louis. Now, in the full interview below, Callahan shares the trick to perfect pie crust, who taught her to make pie and why you should never have leftover pie. Oh, and we ask her about that vomit pie scene in Stand By Me. Sorry.
How did you get started with pies? I grew up on a big family farm in Southern Minnesota. My mom really taught me how to make pies. She was an incredible pie baker, just effortless and confident. Thereís so much of a mystery surrounding pies, specifically the crust. I think she taught me not to over-handle the crust or itíll be tough. Use a light touch. Use ice-cold water, too. When I teach pie-making classes I say these things, but I think it takes a lot of practice. She taught me well.
Where can we find your pies around town? Kaldiís. I sell full-size pies to them, and they sell them by the slice at five locations. I provide different flavors every week for them. Today I did a peach and a peach-raspberry, and last week we did strawberry-rhubarb, key lime, and lemon meringue. I also sell at Local Harvest Grocery, Baumannís Meats and part of the season at the Clayton Farmers Market. Iím also finalizing arrangements for fresh pies to be carried by Whole Foods in Brentwood.
What ingredients are in season now? Berries are great, so Iím doing a lot of mixed berry pies: blackberry, strawberry and blueberry. Peaches are coming in. Pears and apples are sort of a mainstay.
How do you source your pie ingredients? I put a high premium on fresh fruit. I try to buy from local providers when I can. I donít use frozen or canned food in the filling. I try to do them seasonally. I donít want to force anything. I use butter and shortening in the crust. Butter gives it that wonderful flavor, and shortening gives it that extra flakiness. The ingredients are quite simple Ė sugar, corn starch or tapioca for thickening, and the fruit, flour, butter and shortening. Oh, and I only use Missouri pecans.
Letís talk about the elephant in the room Ė the challenge of baking that perfect crust. Itís like anything Ė if you do it enough you become efficient at it. I try to teach people not to worry about turning out a perfectly crimped crust; just work on the flavor. Work on the texture first, and over time, you can tweak the embellishments. I also tell folks double-crust pies and the lattice crusts are beautiful, but the crumble topping can be your friend, too. Itís a little more forgiving for beginners.
The lattice crust has to be a particular challenge. A lot of beginners break it the first time. I really donít like a lattice crust thatís really thick. I donít think it looks pretty. But in berry pies it does let the color of the berries come through, which is pretty.
You must enjoy innovating with newly devised pie flavors. Thereís a fine line between experimenting and giving people what they want. The apple pies I bring to the farmers market sell out every week, so simplicity is good. Now in the fall, with pumpkin pies, I have done a Grand Marnier-citrus-pumpkin pie, with Grand Marnier cream and citrus rinds in the filling. I also did a toffee-crunch-pumpkin pie. Pear pies have been really popular; Iíve found them to be a great staple, like pear-raspberry-rhubarb, pear-raspberry, or pear-blueberry. Itís fun to switch it up; pears arenít just for tarts anymore. An apple-green chile-pecan pie I made once for a Southwest-themed dinner party was really good.
I understand you make two-bite pie tartlets? Yes. A full-size pie is 9Ĺ inches, a 5-inch pie serves two or three. I do a 2- or 3-inch single-serving tart, and a bite-size tartlet. Apple-crumb and lemon meringue are probably the most popular flavors of tartlet. I also do banana-cream, coconut-cream, pecan, pear-crumb and lots of other flavors of tartlet.
So, is it finally pieís time to shine? I launched the company in the fall of 2010 with a small, very incremental approach. Lo and behold, on my birthday in November, the New York Times published an article that said ďpie is the new cupcake.Ē I thought it was karma (laughs). I love cupcakes and I think theyíre great, and with 2.2 million people in St. Louis, I think thereís room for pies, cupcakes and all other quality desserts.
You must be excited about opening a retail location. I started with delivery, on a small scale, and itís been great. I started making pies because that makes me happy. And delivery has let me be a sort of Christmas elf all year long. I bring people a pie thatís a gift from someone else, and it makes me feel good. The response has been great. So, I am actually going to take the next step and I signed a lease! Itís a property in Maplewood. Iím in the process of getting approval. Fingers crossed, weíll open by Labor Day in the early fall. I donít want to reveal the address yet, but itís a darling little location.
Should I make my own whipped cream for my pie? Well, if you order banana-cream or coconut-cream or key-lime pie, the whipped cream comes with the pie. Ice cream is really good, too, of course. But yes, it is so easy to make your own whipped cream, and it tastes so much better than store-bought.
Should I refrigerate my leftover pie? Pie is best eaten right away. But if you have leftovers, Iím a strong advocate of pie for breakfast. Whatís the difference between a cherry stolen or an apple Danish and a piece of pie? And you actually get more fruit in a slice of pie.
Do you get many special requests for the pies? I love it when someone wants a special message cut out in the dough of the crust, like ďcongratsĒ for a graduate or hearts or cardinals. In terms of flavors, the most unusual request I ever had was a mincemeat pie, which was actually my dadís favorite. I found a recipe and did my level best.
Have you had some noteworthy adventures while delivering pies? I was delivering around the holidays last year, and it was the last delivery on a long route. I went to this house, and I had the pies in my hand, and a friendly Black Lab and Golden Lab came up to greet me and jumped in my car and wanted to go home with me. The pies were kept safe. We kept the dogs separate from them.
Are you familiar with the pie-eating-contest scene in the movie Stand by Me? It involves vomit. No Ė but that would be awful in many ways. (Laughs). The movie Waitress gives you that homey, caregiving, pie-baking feeling. Letís go with that one.
Do you like cheese on apple pie? Iím from Minnesota, and the cheese on the pie is a Wisconsin thing. We didnít grow up that way, but I totally respect that. (Laughs).
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