Food & Drink Upper crust

Flaky and delicate are the passwords at Janie's Pie Factory

In the late afternoon, Janie's Pie Factory feels less like a factory than a crowded kitchen. There are an old enamel pie cabinet in the corner, a baker's cabinet stacked with cookbooks, and a few oak trestle tables. Janie Bailey sits at small baking table spinning Granny Smith apples on a hand-cranked peeler. As she turns the handle, the apple is sliced and cored, and its green skin comes off in one long, thin string, looping and curling over itself. What's left of the Granny Smith resembles a bocce ball. "It's amazing. People don't recognize the apples; they say, Wow what is that?" she says. "Maybe they've never had a pie made with fresh apples, but that's our best-selling pie and that's how we do it."

Easy as Pie: Janie Bailey, owner of Janie's Pie Factory, says pie makers don't get as much respect in the culinary world as pastry chefs. "It's not bananas fosters, but mainly I think it comes down to people saying, Well, my grandmother made that, how hard can it be? They say that until they try a crust and have hard time," she laughs. (Photos by Laura McKenzie)

Despite the homey atmosphere, Janie's is industrious. There are pies in the oven and pies on the rack and a small stack of pies waiting to be picked up on one of the big tables up front. It is so hot and sweet-smelling in the bakery it almost feels like you are sitting in a pie - apple, of course. Bailey offers six varieties of apple pie, ranging from original to upside-down to caramel-walnut, and the award-winning Fiesta, a blend of jalapeño peppers and apples with a Cheddar crumb top. If you don't fancy apple, there are strawberry-rhubarb, pumpkin, meringue, coconut custard, lemon chess, blueberry, and the list goes on and on, including a large selection of savory pies, such as quiche and chicken pot pie. But don't let the long menu fool you. Bailey doesn't like to freeze her pies, so she only bakes 20 a day for walk-in business, usually whatever is selling well. "We want to have a pie for you if you come by," she explains, "but, if you really have a craving for something, it's best to give us a call and order ahead."

On the day that we dropped by, there were a couple of pumpkin pies, an apple, and a four-berry. We chose the latter, which was still hot from the oven, and a King Ranch chicken, the savory pie of the day.

The King Ranch chicken had been baked already and only required a quick reheat. Bailey threw a bag of corn tortilla chips in the pastry box and told me to cover the top of the casserole with them in lieu of tinfoil. It worked very well: The chips turned a golden brown while, beneath them, Cheddar cheese, spicy tomato sauce, chicken, jalapeños, and corn tortillas melded. On the plate, it turned into a kind of soupy enchilada pie - tangy, salty, comfort food. My dining companion and I polished off half of the casserole and started nibbling from the tin. Had a guest not dropped by at that very moment, a witness to the gluttony, we would have eaten it all and loved every bite.

Happily, our forbearance left us with room for the four-berry pie.

Just about anybody can make pie filling, but it takes a certain talent to make a great crust. Bailey uses Crisco, not only the vegetable shortening but also the recipe on the side of the can. "When I first started making pies I used Crisco; I just figured they knew what they were doing," she says. "Now, there are nuances that I have developed along the way. From one or two pies to 20, you do that."

Bailey's crusts are nice and sturdy, but have a wonderfully flaky consistency and a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Ours was sprinkled with cinnamon and just salty enough to balance the filling, a combination of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. On their own, blueberries can cook down to a super-sweet, syrupy filling; here the raspberries and strawberries add a welcome tartness.

If it were too tart, Bailey says her customers would tell her, as they have done since she opened the Pie Factory eight years ago. "They let me know if something is too sweet or not sweet enough," she says. "Sometimes it's more of a request: Can I use a special sugar or bake a pie in their pan? That's the nice thing about a small shop - we can have that kind of relationship."

Janie's Pie Factory

Carousel Court
1832 Nacogdoches
10am-6pm Tue-Fri
10am-4pm Sat

"I think people like to make those connections. You know, the first question they ask when they come in the door is, Are you Janie?"

Bailey says her favorite pie is always the one she just invented - today, she likes a pear pie sweetened with a pear-and-port jam and topped with toasted almonds - but, she admits, after working with the pies all day, she seldom feels like eating one. Yet, her favorite vacation is traveling to different cities to see how other bakers make and sell pies and to try the local fruit. She met a woman in northern Wisconsin who sold pies out of her house; she had converted her spare bedroom into a walk-in freezer and there she stored 300 frozen pies. In Washington Bailey visited a cranberry bog, and in Montana she ate huckleberries for the first time.

The only trouble with travel is that it inspires new recipes. "I have piles, just a great big stack, of recipes I'd like to try," says Bailey, "but there's just not enough time to bake every pie. Someday I want to close the shop and fool around, just play, and try something I've never tried.

By Susan Pagani

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