Sacred Heart woman makes thousands of pies each year
For some, pie might be an occasional sweet treat or strictly a holiday tradition, like pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. That certainly is not the case for Sonja Siemieniewski, of Sacred Heart, otherwise known as the “pie lady.” For the pie lady, pie is a way of life 365 days a year. The pie lady started out at a very young age learning the art of baking pie as well as many other baked goods at her grandmother’s side.
“I have been baking many different things for some 38 years now. My grandmother baked all kinds of things, and I was always at her side taking in all the things she wanted to teach me, so I guess you could say my love of a lot of things, not just baking, started with my grandmother. She knew so much out gardening and growing all sorts of things. She was a farmer at heart. I suppose I was about 10 years old when I started helping her in the garden, pulling weeds and helping plant potatoes. I love growing things, gardening is in my heart,” said Siemieniewski. “I guess you could say I am just carrying on her knowledge. She would grow gardens and can everything and share with family or neighbors and always baking and cooking.”
Siemieniewski and her husband, George, plant a four-acre garden which they downsized from six acres this year. They have been loyal venders at local farmers markets for years in Granite Falls, Willmar and Montevideo. They offer a variety of fresh vegetables, whatever is in season, but not everyone is shopping for fresh vegetables.
“I baked 45 pies last night. My husband George took half of the pies to the Willmar farmers market this morning and I brought the rest here to the Granite Falls market, and I only have one rhubarb and one pecan pie left,” said the pie lady just one and a half hours after she set up at her vender spot. “They all know I will have the freshest pies available and I could have sold a lot more pies this morning if I would have had more apple pies along. Apple and rhubarb/strawberry are my biggest sellers. Everybody seems to love the apple,” said Siemieniewski. “I usually also have several loaves of quick bread along, always banana and often other kinds, like pumpkin, but banana is the favorite bread, just like apple is the favorite pie.”
The Siemieniewskis also have an orchard with pear and apple trees and often get apples from friends who have trees but will not be using all the apples. Many hours are spent peeling and cutting apples for freezing so she will have plenty of pie filling to last through the winter baking days too.
During the holiday seasons the pie lady will often receive orders for many pies which will be used for family gatherings or given as holiday gifts. Thus the pie baking doesn’t stop when the farmers’ market comes to an end. Pies are in demand year round.
“Of course I do more baking in the summer, but it never really stops. I would say I bake on the average of 100 pies a week, well into the thousands. A few of them find their way to my own table because I love to have people over, so when the family gets together it is at my house. There are usually 30 some at my house for whatever we are celebrating. I wouldn’t get by without serving pie,” said the pie lady.
Her kitchen is nothing outstanding like you would expect in the home of a professional baker. The only thing out of the ordinary in the pie-producing kitchen is the fact that there are five ovens. Once she begins assembling all the ovens are full. By the time the last oven is filled, the pies in the first oven are baked, and the process starts over again, depending on how many she wants to make that day.
When asked if she had any secrets to the recipe for her light, flaky crust that melts in one’s mouth, the pie lady said, “My crust recipe is the same as it was when my grandmother taught me. Three simple ingredients. Shortening, all-purpose flour and water. Maybe the secret is the water. It is my own well water. I use one part shortening to two and a half parts flour and just as much water as it takes to make it the right texture for rolling. Some cooks say it has to be cold water. I just use it right out of the tap. Some think you need to chill the crust before rolling it out. I don’t worry about that.
I have a 3-pound can of shortening. I use the entire can and then I fill it two and a half times with the flour. I don’t use a mixer. I put it in a big bowl take my plain old pastry blender and start cutting the shortening into the flour until it is crumbly, then I start working in the water. Once I have the right mixture, I divide the dough into small round discs and stack them up at the spot where I do the rolling out,” said the pie lady.
If the Siemieniewskis do not have enough fresh supplies in our area or garden for all the baking, George makes a trip to a large producer’s farmers market in the Twin Cities.
“You can buy bananas and other fruit by the case. It is the cheapest way to buy bananas, and I use what I can while they are fresh and freeze the rest for banana bread. The freezers get pretty full with ingredients that will be pie or bread eventually.”
The farmers market always fills up their summers, but it is all worth it.
“I love seeing all the customers and also the other venders,” she said. “It makes me feel so good seeing everyone and to continue to serve all my pleased customers, that is what it is all about.”