With Evanston’s broad array of food establishments and easy access to all that the City of Chicago has to offer, any kind of world cuisine or sweet treat is close by. For those who want something simpler or more familiar, there is pie.
“As food-obsessed people, we’re good at appreciating the simple food of other countries,” said Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Chicago. “We seek out the most authentic, traditional, home-style dishes in any cuisine, yet we really didn’t value traditional American food.”
Ms. Haney started Hoosier Mama Pie Company in 2006 after having worked for several years in fine-dining restaurants in Evanston and Chicago. After hours of busily preparing complicated desserts as a pastry chef, days off would be spent taking comfort in “the world’s most unpretentious food,” she said. The storefront, located in the Ukrainian Village, opened in 2009 on March 14, also known as “Pi Day.”
“I started making pies when I was a little girl. It was the first thing I really learned how to make,” said Ms. Haney. “[My family] had to have our pies.” The pie shop makes 100-300 pies a day and features seasonal flavors as well as cream pies, fruit pies and even savory pies, that can be enjoyed at one of the few small tables in the shop. The recipes, many of which have been developed by Ms. Haney during her long relationship with her favorite dessert, have recently been documented in the book “The Hoosier Mama Book Of Pie: Recipes, Techniques, and Wisdom from the Hoosier Mama Pie Company” with Allison Scott, published by Evanston’s Agate Publishing. After fielding questions about her pies and continually hearing that many people find baking pies too daunting to attempt, Ms. Haney took it upon herself to create a reference for even the wariest of bakers.
“There’s a lot of basic pie knowledge that used to be taken for granted. If you read some of the old cookbooks from the ’40s, a lot of times they’ll just say, ‘make pie dough in the usual manner,” she said. “They’ll be very vague on the instructions; they just assumed everyone knew how to make pie. It made me sad that we have lost that basic understanding, and it’s not hard. It just takes a little practice.”
The book is also aimed at preserving many old recipes and traditional techniques. “I was kind of concerned that we were losing a lot of the old traditional recipes. … When I started testing pie recipes I found out that a lot of people had never had a pie that didn’t come out of the freezer case at the grocery store,” said Ms. Haney. “I just felt like that was a wonderful food tradition that we were losing and that we needed to get it back before we forgot what these pies are supposed to taste like.”
Ms. Haney admitted that her favorite pie to eat – rhubarb – is not necessarily her favorite pie to make. “We peel our rhubarb and that isn’t always the most fun thing to do,” she said. A small sign in her shop, antique in appearance, describes “pie plant,” a name for rhubarb used in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As for her favorite pie to make, Hoosier Mama’s signature Hoosier Sugar Cream pie is at the top “because it is ridiculously easy,” she said. “It’s wonderful, so it always seems kind of magical.”
The book, which was due out Aug. 15, details the aspects of good pie dough with vivid photographs, more than 120 sweet and savory recipes and even helpful hints on which salt to use in the all-butter pie crust.
The Evanston location of Hoosier Mama, which will be a partnership with Dollop Coffee and Tea, will be 1618-1/2 Chicago Ave. in the AMLI Residential building.
The decision to open a shop in Evanston came from Ms. Haney’s very positive experience working at the restaurant Trio, saying, “The customers were so wonderful to us. They treated us like family.” She continues to see Evanston as a welcoming place to expand her business. “I had a very good impression of Evanston. I think it’s a really good fit.” The café and pie shop is scheduled to open Oct. 1.