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For centuries, flour-based pastry shells formed a hard disposable container for storing and cooking food, essentially making everything a pie, albeit loosely defined. Eating the tough, inedible “crust” back then would be as unthinkable as eating Tupperware or your Le Creuset today. Thankfully, innovation and necessity changed the course of crusts. According to Janet Clarkson’s “Pie: A Global History,” given food’s historical scarcity, she says it’s likely that these hard shells were, over time, consumed rather than tossed. She asks, “would not this largesse of sauce-soaked crust be distributed to the scullery boys and the hungry clamouring at the gate?” Eventually the container achieved parity with its contents, coming into its own flaky, buttery, delectable glory.
Pastry was common during the Middle Ages, and pies as we know them came into their own during that period. Tudor cookbooks from the 1500s feature mostly savory “pye,” tart and tartlet recipes, precursors to steak and kidney pie and chicken potpie. Recipes from the late 1500s and 1600s even explain how to bake empty pie shells and fill them with live frogs or blackbirds (as in “four and twenty”), the pies to cut open as a novelty during extravagant dinners.
The older you are, the more acute your memories of fresh-baked pie bubbling on a cooling rack windowsill. But just as radio gave way to television, and television yielded to the Internet, grandma’s fresh-baked pie has now given way to fresh-baked pie-in-a-jar. Think of it as the iPad of desserts.
Dani Cone’s High Five Pies offers apple, mixed berry, cherry almond crunch and ginger peach raspberry, as well as seasonal pies, all baked in jars. She recommends small Mason jars, “the wide-mouthed kind. The regular ones are too narrow and you can’t get a nice crimp.” (For the adventurous home baker: make sure that your jars withstand both freezing and baking to avert disaster.) The inspiration came when her co-worker’s sister asked Cone if she had ever thought about pie in a jar. “It hadn’t occurred to me. But it sounded so cute it never got out of my head,” she says.
When she was ready to try them she knew that Seattle’s three Fuel Coffee shops would be both customer and beta-tester. That’s because she owns them. After 13 years as a barista in an industry she’d been working in since she was a teen, Cone decided to go out on her own. “Here’s a novel idea, a coffee shop in Seattle,” she jokes. “For me, it was almost a no-brainer. I wasn’t getting any younger.” Five years ago she gave it a shot.
Seattle’s fiercely competitive and saturated coffee market initially intimidated her until she looked at it as a customer, rather than a prospective owner. “Consumers have so many choices. They try coffee shops until they find one they feel fits them, fits their coffee preference, personality, aesthetics, fits the community, is convenient.” So she focused on creating a consumer-centric environment. “We have amazing coffee and we do it well, but training staff is also a huge part.”
She started High Five Pies wholesale bakery in December ’08 with zero baking experience and the economy in a tailspin. People eat in a crisis, so Cone decided to diversify with pie. “The pie business is simple. It’s feel-good, it’s not expensive - flour, butter, fruit and sugar. I thought, ‘I have to do something, the economy’s tanking.” First stop was Grandma Molly, 91, whose secret all-butter crust is the best Cone ever tasted. Both she and Grandpa Jerry, 95, are life-long cooks and bakers. “My grandmother is good at many, many things. She’s a perfectionist and her crust is no exception.”
Cone started High Five Pies with “flipsides,” a pie that looks kind of like a pierogi, only bigger. It’s a grab-and-go treat with savory fillings like potato veggie cheese dill, broccoli cheddar mushroom and curried vegetable, and comes with sweet fillings, too. They were an instant hit. She’s currently creating egg and cheese as well as tomato basil mozzarella recipes. Cone also developed seven-inch deep-dish pies, “perfect for two to three people, no leftovers” and “cutie pies,” tiny pies baked in muffin tins. Then came “pie jars.”
“Frankly, I was new to baking things in jar,” says Cone, but the technique isn’t all that different from traditional pie making. She makes and rolls out the dough and cuts it into a circle, but instead of unrolling the dough over a pie plate, she smooshes the circle gently into the jar, or cuts it into strips and lays those in the jar, sealing the seams with her fingers. Unlike a conventional pie, they require no pie weights and no pre-baking. “All my research was done in a jar,” she explains. “I think the glass jar distributes the heat more evenly but that’s just a guess.” And while a jar pie is the same size as a slice of pie, the crust to filling ratio is much higher, satisfying the crust-lovers among us.
High Five Pies now supplies the three Fuels, a new Amazon campus in Seattle, some area coffee shops including Café Vita, her former employer, and several bar/restaurants. She’ll have more of an on-line presence next month, is increasing distribution and plans to open a retail pie shop this summer. “The response is way more positive than I ever expected,” she says. Pie Pop, a pie-on-a-stick is the latest incarnation. “It’s a bit of a fragile product but it’s only a bite or so you don’t really have time for it to fall into your lap,” she muses.
Like the pops, the jar pies satisfied her desire to make something unique and once she got the idea, she says, she just wanted to do it. Her passion for pie is limitless. “I’ll eat any pie, anytime, anywhere.” And she’s making sure that you can, too.