They're easy as old-fashioned pie

Two pounds of berries in each: Blueberry pie done right by MyHouse Cookies, at Oakmont Farmers Market, Havertown.
Two pounds of berries in each: Blueberry pie done right by MyHouse Cookies, at Oakmont Farmers Market, Havertown.

MyHouse Cookies stuffs the finest, freshest fruit, not fakey filling, into buttery crusts. What a farmstand find.

Posted: July 04, 2010

Aproned Marie Connell and, on occasion, her husband Tom, find it mystifying - OK, they find it darn near criminal - what's passed off as real fruit pie these days.

They may spot pails of premixed pie fillings in a bakery next to signs touting pies made from scratch: The filling is already made, for goodness sake. What is it, again, Tom asks, that you are making "from scratch"?

Don't get them started on supermarket pies: They give pie a bad name. It's not real crust, says Marie. And look at the label. "How can high-fructose syrup be the first ingredient in an apple pie? And not apples?"

This venting is occurring on Parkside Avenue (at 50th, in West Philadelphia) where the bake shop of Marie's juggernaut - MyHouse Cookies - was going full tilt one day last week, trays of fresh blueberry pies getting baked off for the weekly Oakmont Farmers Market the next afternoon (Wednesday) in Havertown.

It didn't take spy-work to see what was going in Marie's pies: There were cartons of Jersey blueberries on one pastry table; a full two pounds go in each large-size pie. Boxes of unsalted butter. Flats of fresh eggs. A shaker of cinnamon. Lemon juice. A touch of cornstarch. Pretty much the ingredients of the huckleberry pies her grandmother made up near Scranton, where Marie grew up.

Before continuing (because why continue if the things aren't worth it), let us note that these are wonderful, rustic, juice-stained, lattice-topped fruit pies, their tender real-butter crust recalling aproned grandmas; the fruit's flavor enhanced, not buried; the filling firm and berry-sweet, not runny and syrupy-sweet.

You want to slap a blue ribbon on the pies. Though at Oakmont (or SIW Vegetables, the farmstand in Chadds Ford; or Wolff's Apple House in Lima; or the Swarthmore Co-op Farm Market) the pies tend to get snatched up in high season, which is, well, who needs a blue ribbon? (Six-inchers go for $5.50; the 10-inchers, $12.95.)

The strawberry pies are finishing up, and the rhubarb is fading. Peach is coming on soon. It'll be paired with blackberries eventually. But right now it's blueberry time: "The first seven people," Marie says about her Oakmont sales, "will be blueberry pies."

She started with just cookies six years ago in 300 feet of leased space in the Lower Merion Vocational Training Center in Wynnewood, which explains the MyHouse Cookies name.

Things have quadrupled: Today she has five workers in a 1,200-foot kitchen in this big brick former piano factory; business is up 40 percent over last summer, a good bit of that from the sale of roughly 250 fruit pies a week.

She still turns out fresh cookies, and for the holidays - when the farm stands are shut down - 3,000 orders of high-end slice-and-bake frozen cookie dough for Williams-Sonoma: "A good holiday customer," she says.

Williams-Sonoma offers good exposure; MyHouse bakers have gotten ink in five million catalogs. But it's a tiny fraction of the business.

More often her wholesale kitchen (there's no retail operation here) turns out sunny, flat-out-luscious quiche lorraine tarts for caterers. There's a line of scones. And zucchini bread.

If you've had the ice cream sandwiches at Capogiro, the sugar-cookie wafers are Marie's. If you've had gingerbread men from the farmers market in Strafford on the Main Line, you've had Marie's ginger cookies. The muffins at Urban Outfitters in the Navy Yard? They're Marie's.

An earth-in-balance circularity attends some production: At Pete's Produce, the muscular farmstand in Westtown near West Chester, Marie picks up farmer Pete Flynn's own stone-ground cornmeal, bakes lovely loaves of sweet, grainy cornbread, then returns them for sale to their country of origin.

By noon Tuesday, she'd already been to Chadds Ford with 15 pies, to Wolff's with about 20. Weavers Way's orders loomed, and the Media Farm Market's (for Thursday). But first, there were 100 pies to bake for Oakmont.

Chilled dough was flattened, and rolled in nine-ounce balls. Then pressed into tins with a varnished wooden dough press from Canada. Then filled with scoops of berries. Dotted with a pat of butter. Striped with lattice. And baked.

"It's so good," Marie said, "because there's nothing to this stuff. It's basic. It's all by hand."

It's her way of giving pie its good name back.



Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.

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