Pie and Pi on 3/14: Hoosier Mama Pie Cafe, 1618-½ W. Chicago Avenue
"Really to make a good pie, you have to make it by hand. You can't use a sheeter [mechanized dough roller often used in mass production baking] because to be a good pie dough, it's not homogenous - it has all these little pieces of butter in it," shared Paula Haney. The mama of Hoosier Mama, Haney, owner and chef of the pie shop named by Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines as one of the best places for pie, knows a whole lot about handcrafting mouthwatering pies.
Last Monday, Haney was kind enough to spend a little time with me, after I'd had a two-slice dinner the night before at her tiny-but-powerful establishment on 1618-½ Chicago Avenue: a slice of the hearty Extra Stout Guinness Beef, and then a slice of Jeffersonville. The latter, a pecan, chocolate and bourbon fantasy, was drop-your-fork-good. With a bottomless cup of coffee, all told the bill came to $12 and change. Delicious, hand-crafted, homey and easy on the wallet? Can't beat that.
Mondays are prep days, so sadly, no photo-ops. The pie tin hanging in the door is flipped to "Closed"; chairs are propped upside down on the tables. The kitchen staff busily gear up to produce pies for the local cafes they supply and the looming high holiday, Pi Day, March 14 (yes, 3/14!), Hoosier Mama Pie Company's fourth anniversary.
Over a kind cup of joe, Haney alluded to a few secrets of pies: how to measure kosher salt versus granulated salts, the temperature at which sugar carmelizes for candied pecan toppings, adjusting the sugar levels for blueberry pies accounting for the ripenesses and varieties of the fruits from June to October.
Chemistry flunkees (raises hand) looking to redeem themselves in the kitchen can pre-order Haney's cookbook, "Hoosier Mama Book of Pie," already available on Amazon and set to ship after mid-August. Haney and savory pie specialist Allison Scott added crib notes and troubleshooting guides to the cookbook for the novice baker, which are roughly ordered by difficulty - over 120 recipes that include the four-ingredient Hoosier Sugar Cream pie through concoctions like the chocolate, peanut butter and bananas extravaganza, Fat Elvis.
Though Haney anticipates that the pie shop will be busy on 3/14, their storefront is too small to have an anniversary party so Hoosier Mama will have some giveaway surprises during the day. She advised me and other pie enthusiasts to watch their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Since "absolutely nothing" is in season right now, Haney says, tomorrow, as in most winter months, they will have a collection of chess pies, cream pies, the ubiquitous apple pie - "people would just not stand for that [not to have it]," and one or two savory pies.
"Basically we're waiting for rhubarb."
Finally, for Pi Day, March 14, Hoosier Mama is a sponsor of the Illinois Science Council's π-k Fun Run. The foundation works to "engages, educates, and entertains the adult public about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in our everyday lives." Slices of Hoosier Mama pie will be available at the finish line. And three of the chefs, including Haney, will run the 3.14 kilometers, too.
Hoosier Mama? I don't care, I just want pie! Call 'em at (312) 243-4846 or find 'em on the Internet to pre-order pies two days in advance. Don't be offended when they answer the phone.
- 100,000 digits of pi, by the good folks at the University of Minnesota's Geometry Center.
- More bakeries, pizza pie purveyors and restaurants participating in the Illinois Science Council's Annual Pi Day Celebration, March 14.
- 3.14 spelled backwards is PIE.
- Elvis Left The Building Long Ago, But His Food (And Music) Lives On from the Foodways series at National Public Radio.