Those who open the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie expecting only a pie cookbook are in for a pleasant surprise. Although it definitely delivers in the cookbook category, it begins with a look at the history of the pie company itself, from its farmer’s market days to its present incarnation, a tiny, bustling bakery in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. It’s hard not to be charmed by the story of this company and its founder, Paula Haney, who worried for months “if a bakery devoted to one just one product could cover the rent.” Four years and more than 100,000 pies later, it’s clear her fears were unfounded.
As far as instruction goes, there’s definitely something for everyone; for pie novices, there are detailed introductions to different ingredients and the roles they play, as well as step-by-step instructions for producing different kinds of doughs and fillings. While certain sections could benefit from more photographs, the photos that are included are beautiful and provide a good idea of what the finished product should look like, which is key for beginners.
For the seasoned baker, there are a wealth of sweet and savory pie recipes to choose from, as well as chapters on quiches, hand pies, and turnovers. They range from classic pies with traditional ingredients to pies that are, at first glance, downright intimidating. But even the more complex recipes, given a thorough reading, do offer tutorials and instructions that make them accessible for bakers of any level. Although making a twenty-eight-ingredient chicken pot pie may not be for everyone, if you’re up to the challenge, this book will walk you through it. If you aspire to make dishes completely from scratch, there’s a healthy section of “Subrecipes” that guide you through the making of sweet and savory ingredients.
Several touches elevate the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie from typical cookbook to something more special. Locavores will appreciate that the fruit pie recipes are grouped by season, because Hoosier Mama bakes them according to what’s seasonally available from local vendors. Busy bakers will appreciate that every recipe gives detailed information about how far in advance the pie can be made and how long it can be stored, baked or unbaked, in the refrigerator or freezer. Also included is an extensive list of resources, for everything from how to find a quality butcher to how to choose quality pie-making equipment.
The book is exhaustive, but not overwhelmingly so. It’s hard to imagine needing any other cookbook in one’s collection for the purpose of making pie. The only obvious omission is scaling information; with the exception of the turnover and hand pie recipes, the majority are for producing full-sized pies. Experienced bakers can scale back to seven-inch or individual-sized pies without a problem, but others would benefit from basic scaling guidelines, should they not need or want to produce standard-sized pies.
During the past several years, there has been quite a bit of talk about pie as the “new cupcake,” or the latest food trend. Author Paula Haney makes a convincing argument that pie is “too elemental to be trendy” and that although many of us have a deep fondness for pie, what we often lack is the confidence to make our own, a skill that used to be taken for granted.
If any message comes through loud and clear in this delightful pie primer, it is this: Although pie-making can be difficult, “the good news is that just a little effort can make a great pie maker out of anyone who appreciates great pie.”
August 2013, Agate Midway
$29.95, hardcover, 384 pages
—Reviewed by Julie M. Hentz