The following condensed excerpts and imagery from “Sweetie-licious Pies — Eat Pie, Love Life” (as well as related recipes on pages 108-107 in this edition of BLUE) are copyright© Linda Hundt and used by arrangement with the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.
When I was young, my family would spend a week each summer camping up north at a spot overlooking Lake Michigan. The big lake was breathtakingly beautiful, but routinely ice cold. As kids, we didn’t care and frolicked in the waves from dawn until dusk.
The heat of July always took my father back to his boyhood summers on the farm during the 1930s and ’40s…to the summertime chores, farm animals and the beloved county fair.
One of the highlights of our week was going to Leland, a charming little village on the harbor. We would browse the unique shops and take home fresh-smoked whitefish, bread and cheese. We would also stop at a local farm stand to pick up homegrown sweet corn, tomatoes and sweet blackberries. Much as we enjoyed this outing, my brothers, sister and I couldn’t wait to get back to the campsite.
You see, my mother was a master at outdoor cooking, and no meal was more anticipated. We ate fried whitefish, fresh tomatoes, sweet corn and the yummiest blackberry cobbler “pie” ever while enjoying a perfect Lake Michigan sunset (Mommy’s Boisterous Blackberry Raspberry Pie).
THE HEAT OF JULY always took my father back to his boyhood summers on the farm during the 1930s and ’40s…to the summertime chores, farm animals and the beloved county fair.
Fair week was the event of the summer back then. He and my grandparents would take it in for hours: Exhibition halls filled with breads, pies, flower arrangements and fast-talking salesmen showing off the latest gadgets and appliances; livestock barns full of squeaky-clean pigs, cows, chickens and farm kids hoping for blue ribbons. Carnival rides and games, of course, were colorful, fun and flashy, with lots of dolled-up teenagers.
But the highlight, he said, was the fair food: Steamed hotdogs. Hand-dipped ice-cream cones. French fries, hot and crispy. And his favorite, the sweet candy apples.
While there were a few apple trees at the family farm, my grandmother didn’t have the time, money or inclination to make anything but applesauce and pies. So my father’s precious fair change was spent on something special and unique — the juicy, spicy cinnamon apple that he loved so much and fondly recalled his whole life (Daddy’s County Fair Candy Apple Pie).
I REMEMBER HOW excited I was when we bought our old farmhouse, which came complete with barns, fruit trees and berry bushes. I could hardly wait to cook and bake new creations for my lovely family with our own produce!
My husband and I planted lots of herbs with our vegetables. As the summers passed and I became more confident and creative with my pies and jams, I blended the fragrant essence of herbs and citrus zest with sweet, homegrown fruits to make amazing taste sensations. Soon I started selling my work at farm markets and local high-end restaurants, with my blueberry basil and lime jam being a customer and chef favorite (The Farmette’s Blueberry Basil Cream Pie).
THE SWEET FOLKS have always been supportive of my little pie shop and me in my hometown of DeWitt, where everybody does know your name and turns out for Friday night football games and the tiny barbershop is standing room only on Saturday mornings.
They came and bought pies, cookies and lunch. They told their friends, who bought more pies. The friends brought in their relatives, and they bought muffins and even more pies. And so on and so on.
I can never thank DeWitt enough for helping make Sweetie-licious the success that it is and — more important — for believing in me.
A FEW YEARS BACK I went into the shop one early May morning to start my baking. One of the orders in the book was for a rhubarb custard pie. As it was a little too early to be getting deliveries of fresh rhubarb, I called up my husband to ask if we had any ready in our little patch at home. John said there were a few stalks, and brought them over.
As I was cutting up the rhubarb, I realized I’d have enough for two pies, and looked forward to taking the bonus one home.
While they were baking, two older women came into the shop looking quite distressed; they’d become lost trying to find their way to Saginaw, an hour away. I gave them directions, then invited them to stay. They enjoyed delicious quiche and warm muffins while I continued to bake and wait on customers. Each time I checked on them they seemed calmer and happier.
The elder of the two said that the shop made her feel so content, she was happy she and her daughter had gotten lost.
She introduced herself as Mary, then went on to explain that she lived in Florida and hadn’t been back to Michigan in 40 years; she had come to spend some last days with her dying brother. Mary told me, with a slight smile, that sitting in the shop, she’d become lost in the old music and the wonderful aroma, and suddenly was reminded of her brother’s favorite pie.
She thought it would be a wonderful gift to give her brother in hospice care, if I happened to have it: a rhubarb custard pie (The Little Miracle Fresh Rhubarb Custard Pie).
I LOVE A GOOD rolling pin, especially the old ones that have seen many a piecrust in their day.
I have had a dear collection of rolling pins throughout my baking career, most of which are now scattered around my pie shop. Through the years I would pick them up at secondhand stores for a few dollars, mainly because I couldn’t bear to see them forgotten…I am also convinced that these pins were the magic wands of our foremother pie bakers, the ones who knew the truth in a flaky piecrust and the honesty in a velvet pie filling.
My favorite pin is a sentimental choice, as it was my lovely mother’s.
She received it for a wedding gift some 58 years ago and used it for years and years, pumping out hundreds of delicious and unforgettable pies. Her rolling pin certainly left more than a passing impression on me: Whenever I saw the pin on the kitchen counter as I was growing up, I knew it was time to rejoice, for a pie was to be enjoyed in my near future.
Twenty-eight years ago when I married, my mother handed down her beloved rolling pin to me. I happily honed my pie-baking skills as a new wife, as my children grew, and then at my dreamy pie shop. I loved rolling pie dough with my heirloom rolling pin.
Unfortunately, after thousands and thousands of piecrusts, its bearings have finally worn out. My dear pin has clearly earned its time to rest and its special place of honor on my kitchen shelf, where it is respected and admired for its wondrous body of work…for changing the world, one pie at a time.
BEFORE LAUNCHING NATIONALLY-KNOWN Sweetie-licious Bakery Café in her hometown of DeWitt, Mich. and then in Grand Rapids, Linda Hundt’s passion for “changing the world, one pie at a time” was sparked in childhood by an Easy-Bake Oven and the homemade goodness of her mother, grandmother and aunts.
Having since rolled out thousands of her own exemplary pastries, Hundt has been winning non-stop accolades, from MLive’s “Best Pie in Michigan” and The Steve Harvey Show’s Golden Spatula Award for Best Apple Pie in America to the Crisco 100-Year Anniversary Innovation Award and Food Network Pie Challenge, among others.
But it’s how Hundt pairs stories of deep gratitude for the exemplary people in her life with the recipes they inspired that makes the baker’s vintage-style “Sweetie-licious Pies — Eat Pie, Love Life” (Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press) a 2014 Michigan Notable Book — and timeless ticket to sweetening time together.
To learn more, visit sweetie-licious.com.
— Lisa M. Jensen
Nationally recognized pie-baking champion and author Linda Hundt resides in DeWitt, Mich.