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Q & A: Diane Sikorski, aka the Pie Lady

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Scene checked in with one of Cleveland's most beloved bakers, Diane Sikorski, who runs Humble Pie Baking Company out of her home, producing wonderful pies and jams. Cleveland is fortunate to have someone as skilled and dedicated as Sikorski, and our recent chat yielded some delicious backstory as to why "the Pie Lady" does what she does.

When and why did you start baking regularly?

I taught myself how to make pies in 2005. I couldn't find a locally produced pie that I was interested in spending money for.

What sets your pies apart from the rest?

My pies are the kind your grandmother or mother would make for you. A flaky, old-fashioned crust made with locally produced, hormone-free butter and local, non-hydrogenated lard from pastured pigs. The flour and sugar are organic. The majority of the fruit I use in my pies and jams is locally grown that I process and freeze when it's in season; I froze about two tons of fruit last year. The fillings are less sweet than most commercial pies. I work hard to strike a balance between sugar and fruit.

Do you have a philosophy about your products?

My philosophy is to use the best ingredients available. That doesn't always mean organic. While a lot of the fruit I use is organic or low-spray, not all of it is. It's pretty much impossible to grow stone fruits in Ohio without at least fungicide. I would rather buy incredible local peaches than use an organic product from Georgia or California. People who think Georgia peaches are "all that" have never had an Ohio peach at the peak of the season.

Tell us a little about your jams.

I love making jams just as much as I love making pies. I especially like plums. There are many varieties of locally grown plums and each is quite different. It's maybe my favorite fruit to work with for jam making because of the variety and the different results each gives.

Where do the other ingredients come from? Almost all my fruit, eggs and cream are local. The butter for crusts is from Minerva Dairy. The lard, and a large majority of my fruit, comes from local growers through Fresh Fork Market. I use Snowville Creamery cream.

How many pies will you make in a typical month? I make anywhere from 50 to a few hundred pies a month. For Thanksgiving, I have a limit of 500 pies.

Do you offer a gluten-free pie or all-butter crust on request? I am always happy to make all-butter crusts on request. I've not developed a gluten-free crust I'm happy with.

Where can people find your products? My pies and jams are available through Fresh Fork Market, or by ordering directly from me through my Facebook page (facebook.com/HumblePieBakingCompany). They are also on the dessert menu at Sara's Place restaurant in Gates Mills. I can be found every summer at the Avon Lake Summer Market and before Christmas at Cleveland Bazaar.

What can people expect to pay for your products?

Fruit pies are $23; $25 for nut and cream pies. Jams are $10 for an 8-ounce jar. Some specialty jams like Elderberry and Heirloom Tomato run $12 to $14. What is the best part of doing what you do?

We eat to nourish ourselves – not just physically but also emotionally. Pie is food for the soul. When a customer tells me they haven't had pie like mine since their grandmother or mother was alive and made it for them, that touches me. It also tickles me when moms tell me that their children ask for my pies or jams. Oh, making pies for weddings is a great honor too!

Do you have any help? I have a good friend and a niece who help me with crusts during really busy times like Thanksgiving, but as far as actually making the pies, I make and crimp every single one.

Anything else you'd like to share? I've had a personal commitment to local foods and supporting local growers for most of my adult life. That desire to eat and buy local is reflected in my business.

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