KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
NICOLE GROTH: the information science and linguistics type work, that kind of thinking, is actually really helpful, to be able to produce food in a way that you're going to sell a lot, to a lot of people, there's a lot of organization that goes behind that.
Having the creative desire and drive is one thing but if you can't be organized and figure out how to get that stuff out, you're going to have a hard time.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we talk with the owners of Anisette Bakery and Coffee Market about how they stay organized. Renowned food scholar Julie Guthman talks about the challenges for strawberry growers in coastal California. We take a pie tour of Ann Arbor Michigan, and I share a recipe that's easier than pie. All that and more just ahead, so stay with us.
Thanks for tuning in to Earth Eats, I'm your host Kayte Young. For Bloomington expats Jason and Nicole Evans Groth who started the Raleigh-based bakery and coffee market in 2016 the key to success is only partially about baking tasty treats. The duo who both have a background in information science rely on their organizational and user experience skills to help the shop thrive.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: I'm standing with Nicole Evans Groth in her sweet shop Anisette as she makes her way through rows in a Google spreadsheet.
NICOLE GROTH: Chocolate chip cookies and cantuccini which is basically the Florentine version of Biscotti, these sort of like...
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: She's running me through a production schedule for what she'll be prepping and baking throughout the week. Another spreadsheet serves as a kind of Rolodex of treat recipes. Nicole estimates that she's developed over 84 recipes over the five years that she's owned her store.
NICOLE GROTH: But the nice thing about that is always having these things, these numbers in front of me, so I don't have to memorize it. Which I can spend my brain time doing much more interesting things then just memorizing.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: For Nicole and her co-owner and spouse Jason, it's this high degree of organization and control that allows them to remain creative and confident in their work. And Nicole who is a musician as well as a baker has a metaphor for this-
NICOLE GROTH: Every once in a while I'll measure something and I'll just happen the precise amount on the first try, and I imagine that that's what it feels like execute a guitar solo with your eyes closed.
(Groovy electric guitar)
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Anisette is something of a Hoosier home away from home for me. I met Nicole and Jason many years ago in Bloomington Indiana. We all moved to North Carolina around the same time when Jason and I both got jobs at NC State. Nicole had master's degrees in linguistics and information science from IU and she'd been teaching in the Kelley School of Business.
NICOLE GROTH: K201 Computer and business teaching fresh-faced freshmen and sophomores spreadsheets and databases and all that good stuff. And so I was doing all that...
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: The move to the south east in 2013 marked a new opportunity for Jason but also Nicole who love to cook, and bake, and talk about food. She was looking for a career change.
NICOLE GROTH: And so he took that job, we moved here to Raleigh. And I always kind of knew that there was some sort of food career that's going to happen eventually. Gosh, how do I describe this? I like to gamble. So I have no problem sort of foraging ahead and hoping for the best.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Soon after arriving in Raleigh, Nicole scored a job as confectioner at Videri, a local chocolate factory and store. At that time she didn't exactly have a resume full of restaurant or hospitality experience.
NICOLE GROTH: My very first job as a 15 year old was at Long John Silver's. Just a little jobs like that throughout college and high school. I did some sort of private catering for while, catering friend's parties, but other than that no. It was more than just learning stuff on my own at home.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: I asked her how she got that job.
NICOLE GROTH: Hm... charm? I guess. I don't know, it's probably obvious that I pay really good attention to food.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Nicole thrived at Videri Chocolate Factory. In 2015 her recipe for a strawberry anise ganache even won a coveted Good Food Award for the southeast. When she decided to branch out with her husband and start her own shop she was paying tribute to this particular chocolate.
NICOLE GROTH: So Anisette itself is like a category of liqueurs flavored with anise that you find in places like Italy and Turkey. And you see those flavors used in sweets a lot there. And those places were absolutely inspirations for the kinds of items that were making here.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: As Anisette prepared to open in 2016, Jason used skills that he'd acquired as a librarian to create systems and workflows for the store. He made Google forms and spreadsheets for opening and closing procedures, inventory tracking, and even coffee extraction math. Nicole also found that her previous career skills were serving her well.
NICOLE GROTH: I'm kind of doing the information science and linguistics type work, that kind of thinking, is actually really helpful. I think in terms of its be able to produce food in a way that you're going to sell a lot, to a lot of people, there's a lot of organization that goes behind that. And so I think having the creative desire and drive is one thing but if you can't be organized and figure out how to get that stuff out, you're going to have a hard time.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: It's all complex. But Nicole's core desire for the shop has always been simple.
NICOLE GROTH: I want people to have beautiful food that is not in any way intimidating. I want you to come here and feel welcome, maybe try something. I don't think that anything that we're doing here is particularly innovative or weird, but we're at times using flavors that maybe aren't traditionally found in an American bakery in cakes or pies or whatever, and maybe reimagining something that traditionally from an American Bakery might taste purely like sugar and fluff, and making it actually taste like something, and presenting that in a way that they don’t feel intimidated.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: I visited Nicole at Anisette recently where we immediately launched into what right now feels like a mandatory catch up conversation, by which I mean intensely processing your experiences of the pandemic.
NICOLE GROTH: Like stuff was happening around us and we were just moving.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE [CONVERSING WITH NICOLE]: Cause you know I was like...
NICOLE GROTH: Follow the rules and make sure you're wearing masks.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE [CONVERSING WITH NICOLE]: I know what you mean about not remembering March, because I...
NICOLE GROTH: Totally, and it was just one thing after the next, after the next.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE [NARRATING] : After all the work to move to a new state, train in a new field, and open a business, Jason and Nicole had settled into a period of stability at Anisette. They were hosting concerts and DJ sets on the back patio and had even opened a second location. But in March of 2020 there were several small signs that things were changing.
NICOLE GROTH: It seems like such a naive story now but the first thing that happened earlier in that week is that we took away all of the like creamers and such that people would put in their coffee themselves. And I think moved all of the seating outside and then eventually we thought, "Should we even have people sit outside?" So we took all the seating away. Also we got so busy.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Nicole's ability to gamble, to forge ahead, to be organized, to be creative these were all immediately put to a new test.
NICOLE GROTH: We suddenly had to figure out how... I think it was maybe a week of people calling in place to place their order. I don't know how we did that. We think, all of us just sort of flipped a switch and we became robots. I don't know, I don't even really remember it frankly. But yeah, we were so busy and then having to figure out how to get everything now online, which of course we have information science backgrounds so that was very helpful. I can't imagine how people who don't have that background did this and switched to an online system.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Over time and Anisette has adapted to the reality of covid with all pickups taking place in their front parking lot. They've been lucky to make it through the worst periods of uncertainty.
NICOLE GROTH: The average sales are considerably higher and we speculate that that has to do with the fact that you can so take your time ordering, you can see everything online.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: The two owners used to spend a lot of time chatting with customers in the store about the day's menu or maybe just a Donna Summer record that was playing through the speakers. An outdoor pick up model is not conducive to that same kind of lingering. And so they've recreated the vibe online for the time being with Jason producing weekly and very campy menu videos.
JASON GROTH: Pineapple glaze, decadent, delicious, and vegan. Apple pie is local apples, a flavorful and sweet crumble and a perfect flaky crust. A delicious take on the classic! Our quiche this week is potato and goat cheese. Order now and we'll see you later this week.
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Now as restrictions loosen and Anisette staff is fully vaccinated they've been able to start looking forward in a meaningful way, instead of just reacting and problem-solving. And once the patio reopens and they can host events again Nicole is looking forward to leaving crisis-management mode and getting back to her core mission for Anisette.
NICOLE GROTH: It's like we're having a giant dinner party in months of welcoming people in, that's the idea. Making all of these things welcoming and inviting.
KAYTE YOUNG: That story comes to us from producer Josephine McRobbie.
Animal disease labs across the country stepped up to meet the need for covid-19 testing. Because of their experience tracking animal diseases, the labs had the infrastructure to test and monitor the coronavirus. Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine reports how these labs might play a role in preventing the next pandemic.
SETH BODINE: Jonna Mazet has seen her fair share of coronaviruses.
JONNA MAZET: Hundreds, hundreds of coronaviruses.
SETH BODINE: For the past 10 years, Mazet was the director of the project called Predict. Its goal? Detect emerging diseases around the world that could transfer from animals to humans, called spillover events. Mazet says they happen all the time.
JONNA MAZET: Most novel diseases emerging in sections, jump from one species where they've evolved and they don't cause big problems, into others.
SETH BODINE: But in other instances, Mazet says the results can be bad.
JONNA MAZET: Sometimes things jump into livestock, cook along, and then jump into people, or affect our food supply so devastatingly that it has a major effect on the food security, nutrition.
SETH BODINE: These spillover events are why veterinary science and public health for humans are intertwined, and why animal disease experts could play a role in preventing the next pandemic.
KEN BURTON: In the last 10 years more than 70% of the emerging diseases that have affected humans have had an animal component.
SETH BODINE: That's Ken Burton. He's a coordinator for the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, known as NBAF. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working with homeland security to create a massive lab with the goal of preventing any emerging diseases that might threaten the food supply chain or agriculture industry. Burton says when the next pandemic rolls around, their facility could play a part in preventing it.
KEN BURTON: It could provide a supporting role in future public health crisis with relation to the basic animal research that's done and diagnostics and countermeasures, all of that. In addition to training and response.
SETH BODINE: Animal disease experts and the USDA were already involved in the covid-19 pandemic. Labs like the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab in Stillwater stepped up to expand testing capacity.
JERRY SALIKI: It was like a wartime effort.
SETH BODINE: That's Jerry Saliki, the director of the laboratory. His lab is part of a network working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a way to surveille animal diseases across the country. By last September the lab ran 110,000 covid-19 tests. Saliki says labs like his are used to large amount of testing.
JERRY SALIKI: Rarely does a period of five years go by without a major outbreak of a disease involving millions of one animal species. So we have that experience over a long period of time.
SETH BODINE: Infectious diseases spread through livestock could be devastating for the agriculture sector. A current example is the Africa Swine Fever outbreak in China. Some areas of the country have lost at least half of their sows. Experts like Jonna Mazet think government facilities like NBAF play a role in preventing diseases, but there needs to be early monitoring and action to prevent diseases.
JONNA MAZET: We should have been ready and watching for all these coronaviruses that we know can jump species earlier, but even when it happens then we waited weeks to actually months before the international community jumped in. So we need to have that early flag, respond quickly and largely, and then scale back when we get it under control or if it's not a real problem.
SETH BODINE: NBAF wasn't up and running for covid-19 but Burton says animal disease labs have a better road map for how to help during the next pandemic.
KEN BURTON: Collaborations not only within the agricultural community but also the crossover between the human side and the animal side is gonna be extremely important going forward.
SETH BODINE: NBAF is expected to open in October but as Burton and other experts know, that could be critical to preventing the next pandemic. Seth Bodine, Harvest Public Media.
KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media covers food and farming in the Heartland. Find more at HarvestPublicMedia.org.
JULIE GUTHMAN: My name is Julie Guthman, I'm a professor of social sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz.
KAYTE YOUNG: Julie Guthman is a food scholar whose work has had a profound effect on much of my thinking about alternative food movements. Her 2011 book Weighing In challenges common approaches to the so-called obesity epidemic and has pushed me to examine the limits of interventions such as school gardens and farmers markets in transforming our food system.
Julie Guthman visited the IU campus in the spring of 2019 and gave a keynote address at a conference called critical approaches to superfoods. I invited her to the studio to talk about her recent work.
JULIE GUTHMAN: The talk I'm giving is called The Problem with Solutions, and it's really motivated by this tendency I've seen, certainly in the tech industry but also in kind of low-tech versions of efforts to transform food. It reflects on this tendency to have solutions guide the problem. So we're seeing so many people come up with solutions that are politically palatable, or excite them, from farmers' markets, to drones to monitor fields and go looking for kind of problems to be solved.
So I have a new research project on agriculture and food technology and I've been going to all sorts of events where entrepreneurs are looking for Venture Capital to fund their inventions that are about new food products, new products to help farmers farm. And I'm constantly struck about how little some of these entrepreneurs seem to understand about the nature of food and agriculture.
KAYTE YOUNG: Her latest book released this summer is on the strawberry industry in California.
JULIE GUTHMAN: The strawberry work, I'm very excited about it. I'm just completed a book, it's called Wilted; Pathogens, Chemicals and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry. It's a culmination of maybe five years of research on the California strawberry industry. And what this book does is address how it is that the strawberry industry became so wedded to the use of highly toxic soil fumigants, and how that use of fumigants ramified throughout the rest of the industry making it really really difficult to change. And it's animated by the problem that just one of the many problems at the strawberry industry is facing that the chemicals they've long been using are now facing tighter regulation.
The issue with these chemicals is they were first introduced to address a suite of soil based problems. Nematodes, weeds but mainly soil-borne pathogens. And these pathogens early on in California strawberry industry were hurting growers. They were seeing huge waves of blight where they was losing lots of crops. And the University of California got involved in trying to support farmers to address these pathogens and they first developed a breeding program. But sometime in the late 50's they started experimenting with various fumigants, and they used a combination of methyl bromide which used to be a fire retardant, and chloropicrin which is tear gas. And they found that a combination of that addressed the pathogen problem. And those two chemicals in combination became the treatment of choice to address soil pathogens and weeds and much more.
But methyl bromide is an Ozone depleter and has been taken off the market because of the Montreal protocol on ozone-depleting substances. And chloropicrin they're still allowed to use but with much tighter restrictions. But the problem is it's so much of the way strawberries are produced has been developed with the assumption of the availability of those two chemicals, to be available.
So for instance strawberries we often think of it as a seasonal crop like in most parts of the country where they grow strawberries to the extent they still grow them, there may be available in the market for three weeks. But California strawberries are in the market for 9 to 10 months of the year. There's certain regions in California where you can grow strawberries, or you can be harvesting strawberries for at least six if not 8 months and you can do it year after year. And those fumigants allows growers to grow them year after year on the same block.
So one of the things that happens is land values become calibrated on the assumption that you're going to be able to fumigate and harvest those strawberry plants year, after year, after year. So strawberry land values are very high making it very difficult to pay rent unless you're getting that kind of yield. In addition there's the qualities of land that are really good for strawberries include sandy soils and the highly temperate weather of the coast of California. So most of strawberries are grown within about 3 miles of the coast. It's cool in the summer because the breeze has come off the Pacific Ocean. We call it the natural air conditioning of the Pacific Ocean. So summers are actually cool and foggy right by the coast. And so for the strawberries at its eternal spring, because they don't do well in super hot weather. So you have the advantages of that particular climate are great for the strawberries but it's also where people want to live. And so there's a lot of suburban development in the same areas. And so that's also putting pressure on land values.
Another issue that you have is that plant breeding has been done with the presumption of fumigation. So even though the first plant breeding activities were to try to develop pathogen resistant varieties, once there was fumigation they no longer had to do that. So they started breeding for size, for color, for shipability so they wouldn't perish, for size and color presumably because that's what consumers want. They didn't breed much for taste, except for certain varietals.
But now you have this problem where there's these regulations and you can't fumigate with the same chemicals that have the same efficacy. In addition there's been new pathogens appearing that hadn't been there before. So they really need to find some pathogen resistant varietals. But they've lost some of the original germplasm, like the ancient germplasm that might have been more beneficial. So the strawberry genome itself has changed in relationship to the presumption of chemical fumigation.
KAYTE YOUNG: The strawberry genome itself has changed in response to the prevalent use of chemical fumigants. Before you go racing to the grocery store to stock your freezer with those giant red, nearly flavorless strawberries, stay tuned. After a short break will be back with Julie Guthman to get her sense of how urgent the strawberry problem really is.
We are back with Julie Guthman of UC Santa Cruz, talking about her research on strawberry growers in California.
[INTERVIEWING] How immediate is this problem or crisis or whatever you want to call it for the strawberry industry? Are they having to make these changes right now or are we not going to see as many strawberries on the shelves? Like what's happening now and how quickly do they need to move, and what kind of solutions are coming up?
JULIE GUTHMAN: Well that's a great question. The strawberry industry is facing a number of crises. It includes tighter regulation, it includes the new pathogens appearing that they don't really understand, it includes labor shortages, and strawberry growers complain about labor shortages more than they didn't complain about fumigant regulation. It includes high land prices and land scarcity. And it includes low prices for strawberries. So there's a lot of things bearing down on the strawberry industry, and strawberry growers like to complain, and they do about all of those things. Already this set of circumstances, strawberry growers are leaving. I mean these past few years there's has been reductions in acerage. So people are like, "I'm out of here I can't do this anymore." So that's already happening.
Now the kind of solutions, so here we go to back to the solutionisms, but this isn't solutionism because there actually is a problem and they are looking for a solutions. So the solutions on hand really vary in terms of who will benefit or be hurt by them. And they range from finding and getting approved through regulatory bodies less toxic replacements for these chemicals. That's what the strawberry industry most wants cause it wouldn't really change up what they do. But so far none have been developed that California's Department of Pesticide Regulation is willing to accept. So much of the research is in non-chemical alternatives, and some biological pesticides too they've been looking at, but again none are really ready to go.
So they're one thing they're looking at our non-chemical forms a fumigation, so like steam. Steam can kind of work but it's expensive, you have to have steam machines going through and it's very slow. They've also looked at solarization where they just put on plastic, but it's not hot enough. I think it works in Israel and in really really hot climates but it's just not hot enough there, cause you need to have a lot of hate to kill the pathogens. So the main thing they're looking at has been in the non-chemical treatments has been this thing called anaerobic soil disinfestation, where they flood the fields with water and also add a carbon source like rice bran, or molasses, and cover it in plastic. And apparently that creates so much activity that it drowns out the pathogens.
KAYTE YOUNG: Wow
JULIE GUTHMAN: But it has mixed results, I mean so far no one's really brought it up to a scale of like several hundred acres. They've done it on a couple acres. And it's also like not chemical which is good, it's not toxic but it's because of tremendous amount of plastic and water, and in a drought squared state. We just had a rainy year, thankfully! But lots of water is not good for California, and it's not even clear, like the rice bran and molasses, where that would come from, and that could be grown under very toxic conditions.
So there's that one and they're also looking at soilless substrate. This is a really interesting one. This is like not taking strawberries quite into greenhouses but as of right now they're putting soilless substrate is a medium for growing strawberries. So it could be coconut choir or peat moss but it does it's not fertile soil, and they put it in waist-high trays. Which is good for the harvesters, they don't have to bend over cause strawberry picking is really arduous, crummy work.
KAYTE YOUNG: So it's creating another soil environment that's not...
JULIE GUTHMAN: It's not soil
KAYTE YOUNG: But it's still outside, because the climate is great.
JULIE GUTHMAN: The climate's great so that's exactly the thing, is there are people now growing strawberries in greenhouses. Like New Jersey has a huge greenhouse operations for all sorts of fruits and vegetables. But the California growers are not so excited about greenhouse operations because their biggest competitive advantages are the soil, even though it's now diseased, and the weather. So right now they're experimenting in the substrate, but this is expensive infrastructure, and so there's that.
And the third obvious possibility is using agroecological techniques like using rotating strawberries with broccoli. Broccoli has mild fumigation qualities and cover crops, and compost, and there are organic growers that successfully raise strawberries in these integrated systems. But they're not growing strawberries on the same block year after year. And their strawberries are a minor crop. And so they have to find cheaper land or they have to find consumers that are willing to pay a lot more for these strawberries grown in those conditions.
Now some in the industry aren't so concerned about these things. They're like, "Yeah it's going to cost more, and it's fine but it's going to shake out all these people who really don't know what they're doing. And those of us who really know what they're doing, and are most technologically sophisticated will rise of the top. And that'll be fine we'll just get higher prices, which we want anyway."
I think one of the social justice stories here besides the work, which is significant, is that some of the newest growers are Latinx growers who were former farmworkers or former field managers who've gotten into deep debt to grow strawberries. And those are the ones that are turning over a year after year, ending up with lots and lots of debt. So a shake out maybe good for some growers but there will be consequences for people who have tried to get into the strawberry business with a lot less capital.
KAYTE YOUNG: Where has this work taken you in terms of your own critical thinking about food systems and where this all fits into some of the other work that you've done?
JULIE GUTHMAN: I mean if I look back at all of my research, I think that I find myself really drawn to paradoxes, and contradictions, and impossibilities. And maybe that's the outcome of having an actively critical mind. But I also think it's really reflects what I see on the ground.
And I think that there's so much in food. I mean food has gotten is galvanized so much public attention. I mean there's food studies, and food shows, and food popular books. We know food is pervasive as like an object of interest. And I think that there is, I don't know if it's an expectation but certainly a hope that there's like easy solutions to everything. And there's really just not.
And I think that a lot of my work has then empathetically critical of alternatives as a way of addressing food systems. And by that I mean, I want to emphasize empathetically critical of the farmers' markets, and the alternative food institutions, and the community gardens, and the farm to school programs, is not doing enough to address the problems in the food system. They show us other ways of producing food and possibly other ways of consuming food but they don't fundamentally undermine the worst sorts of industrial food.
And so my project on strawberries has really hit that home for me because I think the agroecologic techniques of growing strawberries are important to know about. And it's important to have techniques that will work, but we can't get there unless we fundamentally undermine what is causing growers to continue to fumigate etcetera. And it includes land values, and it includes research in extension systems that aren't really developing integrative science. It includes so many different things. It includes huge wealth disparities.
So I keep on coming back to the same problem in almost all my work in that we cannot really change the food system until we fundamentally address the pervasive problems of inequality and insufficient regulation and much more in in the world at large.
KAYTE YOUNG: Well and this is also an interesting project because it's come about because of regulation. Like there was some successful regulation that happened in this industry, which is what you want. And then here's what it looks like on the ground.
JULIE GUTHMAN: But the good news is that it's forcing growers to have to rethink what they do. And so that's how powerful regulation can be. So it's important. But then you have to develop the tools to the farm in other ways. But even though even if these tools are coming available, like we have the problem of land values, we have the problem of consumers expectations of cheap food. And not because they're dumb but because that's the economic realities in which they live in, and that they can't with low wages they need, cheap food is one way that they have more wages.
So you can't you can't escape those realities. And so while we those of us who work in food and agriculture need to be certainly thinking about how to address the specific problems, we can't kind of move away from really thinking and acting on the bigger social structures.
KAYTE YOUNG: We can't move away from thinking about the bigger social structures. Julie Guthman never fails to look at the bigger social structures, it's what so powerful about her work. We have more information on Julie Guthman and her work at EarthEats.org.
(Sound of a deep breath in and out)
This week, I'd like to take comfort and offer comfort in pie. Pie for many is a great comfort food, especially in summertime with seasonal stone fruits like cherries, peaches, and of course all the berries. Making a pie is a part baking, part art project, and part sharing love with those that end up eating the pie.
Anyone who knows me knows that pie is important to me. My mom taught me how to make pie crust as her mom taught her. My grandmother had an elegant way of scoring the tops of her pies with a simple wheat design that my mom and I could never quite master. I've always been happy with my homemade pies, but it wasn't until I tried Mark Bittman’s recipe and followed the instructions carefully that my pie making skills moved to the next level. That was in 2006, before that I didn't really get how crucial temperature was to getting a flakey pie crust. Nowadays I'm quite pleased with the texture and flavor of my pie pastry. And I really suffer if one doesn't turn out exactly right, which does happen occasionally, usually when I'm trying to impress someone.
Because of my high pie standards, I don't usually order pie when I'm out and I never bother tasting supermarket pies when they show up on a potluck table. But recently a friend of mine suggested that she had visited Ann Arbor Michigan and had explored the town through the lens of pie. At least that's what I thought she said, maybe they just visited several bakeries. In any case it sounded like a brilliant idea to me, so I tried it myself. Way back in January, before any of the COVID-19 shutdowns in the U.S., my son was attending an orchestra program in northern Indiana, and Ann Arbor was close enough to visit. So, I compiled a list of places in Ann Arbor featuring pies on the menu and headed out with my partner Carl, in search of a pie pastry that was tender and flakey, and full of flavor. First stop Avalon Bakery in downtown Ann Arbor.
Their motto is: Eat Well, Do Good. Avalon boasts 100% organic flour. Looks like our pie is blueberry though it does not say.
CARL PEARSON: Flavorful crust.
KAYTE YOUNG: Tastes like blueberry, but the filling really sets up nice without being gelatinous. And it has a crumble type topping. Let me check the crust, I haven't really tried the crust yet. That crust is tender, and flakey, and it has a really good flavor.
CARL PEARSON: I thought the flavor was excellent.
KAYTE YOUNG: You know what, I think this is mixed berry because I'm seeing something in it that looks a lot like a raspberry or a...
CARL PEARSON: Blackberry?
KAYTE YOUNG: Blackberry. The filling is quite sweet, it might be a little too sweet for me but...
CARL PEARSON: I like it. How's the crust on the bottom?
KAYTE YOUNG: [To Carl] Well it's not soggy. Definitely sturdy but it's not tough. It meets so much of the criteria that I have for a pie crust.
[Narrating] For lunch we decided on Zingerman’s - an Ann Arbor destination for all foodies. It's something like a campus with several buildings featuring different types of food. We ordered savory pot pies.
[Narrating in the restaurant] The top crust already, it's beautifully shaped and it looks flakey. This is a mushroom pot pie, the crust is so incredibly flaky, but tender in a way that...
CARL PEARSON: Is really yummy?
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating in the restaurant] It's so soft, it's so tender, it's incredibly flaky, it's got good flavor. And the mushroom are just... savory and herby, nice gravy. Thing about it, these pies, they look small but they're way too much for me to have for lunch, to have the whole thing.
[Narrating] Next, we headed to a strip mall in the northeastern part of town, to Yoon’s Bakery. It's a Korean bakery with French inspired baked treats.
[Narrating in the restaurant] This tart is more crumbly than flaky. Very short, it's a short crust. Mm, the custard is great. It's got a little lemony-ness to it. The custard is about 3/8ths of an inch thick. It's very delicate, creamy, delicious. Fruit tart, it's a custard base piled with raw glazed fruit which is raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and kiwi...? Yeah, kiwi. This one's sweet, it's like a cookie.
CARL PEARSON: More like a cookie, yeah.
KAYTE YOUNG: This is just one of those classic summer fruit tarts.
CARL PEARSON: I love the egg custard, it was superb.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah.
CARL PEARSON: The fruit custard was really yummy too, maybe wrong season to appreciate it fully.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah it definitely feels like the wrong season for this but, well done.
CARL PEARSON: The fruit was good though, yeah.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Pies from a company called Achatz’s Handmade pie company are well known in Michigan. The Achatz Pie Company was founded by Wendy and Dave Achatz in 1996. The Ann Arbor pie shop is closed now, but wholesale production of the legendary pies continues from their bakehouse in Chesterfield Michigan. We went to look for them at a fancy grocery store called Plum Market. At the time we didn't have the correct pronunciation for the name of the pie company, so bear with us.
I'm not seeing the Achatz... there's hot cakes bakery... here it is!
CARL PEARSON: Wonderful. It looks like they've got four kinds.
KAYTE YOUNG: Apple, blueberry...
KAYTE YOUNG & CARL PEARSON: [At the same time] fourberry
KAYTE YOUNG: What I really want is the cherry but....
CARL PEARSON: There it is.
KAYTE YOUNG: It's so big. I think it's worth it to get the cherry. I would rather get this size, oh -
CARL PEARSON: There's a smaller one.
KAYTE YOUNG: Oh! Excellent. Perfect. It's pretty cute, with the star in the middle.
CARL PEARSON: This pie is boxed, but from the outside through the cellophane it sure looks delicious.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] We'll check back in with that adorable cherry pie later when we get around to tasting it. For dinner we headed to Grand Traverse pie company, they originated in grand traverse county Michigan, but now have 15 locations in Michigan and Indiana.
[To Carl] This is a proper pie company.
CARL PEARSON: Here, we've made it to pie heaven. Cream pies...
KAYTE YOUNG: Beef pot pie,
CARL PEARSON: Lemon meringue,
KAYTE YOUNG: Pumpkin, pecan, cheesecake. The lemon meringue is quite stunning.
CARL PEARSON: Yeah, the lemon meringue is beautiful, it's otherworldly, it's an exotic alien creature.
KAYTE YOUNG: Beef pasties, chicken pot pie, beef pot pie.
CARL PEARSON: Okay, so, if I may; our choices are Lake Shore Berry, apple blueberry cherry, Strawberry rhubarb, peach, mountain berry, apple crumb, blueberry peach, cherry, blueberry, and then....
KAYTE YOUNG: Quiches-
CARL PEARSON: All these quiches.
KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, I think I want...
CARL PEARSON: What's quiche Lorraine?
KAYTE YOUNG: It's like cheese of some sort, maybe Swiss cheese. I'm not sure. And ham and spinach, that's what I think. I'm thinking I would get the Mediterranean feta... that's a lot.
CARL PEARSON: Yeah. Is it a full quarter of quiche.
KAYTE YOUNG: It looks like a full quarter of perhaps small...
CARL PEARSON: Yeah.
KAYTE YOUNG: Pie?
Oh, very delicate. It tastes as though it's been reheated, which of course it has. It's got really good flavor but texture wise it's a bit saturated - probably because of the reheating. It's nice and flakey it's just not.... it has no crunch. It's too oily or something. It's still really good and the quiche filling is quite good. I'm not feeling good about the ingredients that I'm seeing here. I guess they're a big pie company. Palm and soybean oil, and palm kernel oil, vegetable mono and diglycerides, sodium benzoate. Yeah, just a lot of extras.
CARL PEARSON: Yeah.
KAYTE YOUNG: I'm looking for butter, flour, sugar and salt. Okay now I'm going to try the turnover. I consider this to be a like a hand pie, the pastry is very much a pie crust pastry, it's not a puff pastry. And this is the raspberry, the flakes are just falling off of it. Again, the crust is very flakey, but it also has a little bit of that saturated feeling and maybe it's because I read the ingredients, but it doesn't taste as natural. But it also doesn't take like a supermarket pie, I mean the crust is well crafted. It's just not well crafted with butter. And the yacht rock in the background.
[Narrating] Back at our hotel it was time to sample the final pie of the day, that Achatz’s cherry pie we picked up earlier.
[Narrating in the hotel room] This is a double crust cherry pie. The crust is a bit thick... it's a bit thick and underbaked I think.
CARL PEARSON: Not as flakey.
KAYTE YOUNG: Not as flavorful either.
CARL PEARSON: Not as tender. The filling is nice.
KAYTE YOUNG: The filling is really good.
CARL PEARSON: This is the 6th piece of pie we've had today... no 7th.
KAYTE YOUNG: I think that may have been too many pies in one day for me. It definitely was.
CARL PEARSON: (laughs)
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] So, lesson learned. So, while a pie tour was certainly a fun way to explore a town, like most good things, pie is best enjoyed in moderation.
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Summer is peak fruit pie season. I've been making galettes lately. They're a rustic free-form pie, where you skip the pie pan and simply fold your pie pastry around the fruit filling leaving an open middle. I appreciate their simplicity in the way maximize crunchy pie crust edges and avoid the dreaded soggy bottoms of juicy fruit pies. I've made strawberry rhubarb and last week I made one with a mix of serviceberries and gooseberries for the filling. It's so easy, here are the steps;
Make the pie dough in the morning - and we have a recipe and instructions for that on EartEats.org. Wrap it in plastic and stick it in the fridge to chill for several hours. Mix the berries with sugar and maybe some cornstarch. You can mash them up, slice them, or keep them whole.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, then roll out the chilled dough into a rough circle. Transfer it to a baking sheet. Pile the berries and sugar mixture in the middle and fold the edges of the pastry over the circle of fruit, leaving it at least half of it exposed. Then brush the pastry with milk or cream, sprinkle sugar over it, and bake it in a preheated 450-degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 and bake another 15 or 20 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes or so before serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Find photos and details at EarthEats.org.
If you're a visual learner check out the Earth Eats YouTube channel. We've got videos on pie crust making and galette shaping. Just searched Earth Eats on YouTube and please subscribe.
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Last year the covid-19 pandemic forced many small towns to cancel large festivals that they depend on for tourism. As some communities are holding these festivals again Harvest Public Media's Katie Piekes reports what this means for small towns.
KATIE PEIKES: People wearing traditional Dutch clothing are throwing buckets of water onto the street. It's part of the Orange City Tulip Festival celebrating the small Northwest Iowa Town's Dutch heritage.
[IN THE BACKGROUND] That's right, give them a round of applause!
KATIE PEIKES: Locals scrub the street to pave the way for this year selected tulip Queen and her Court.
BRANDE PALS: It feels refreshing to be back doing something that we really loved.
KATIE PEIKES: Brande Pals watches the parade with two of her friends. They're all locals who volunteer at the three-day celebration. This is the Tulip Festival's 80th year. The town had planned to mark that milestone last year but it got canceled that spring and that was a blow to the town. Orange City's population is 6,100 but the festival draws in at least 80,000 people from around the world.
Mike Hoffman with the local Chamber of Commerce says it's a big game for the town, but it's hard to say how big.
MIKE HOFFMAN: You can't put a finger on the fact that people come back and experience to small businesses throughout the course of the year, not just during the festival.
KATIE PEIKES: A little while after the parade people set in the Dutch bakery enjoying pastries.
BAKERY PATRON: And then one Dutch [inaudible]
KATIE PEIKES: Small businesses like this make a lot of their yearly income from the festival. The bakery's owner Lauren Mulder says the money his business makes over these three days equals about two to three months of normal income.
LAUREN MULDER: It probably makes or breaks our year. Without it yeah it would be more difficult to survive basically.
KATIE PEIKES: Mulder says last year was tough. After the pandemic forced restaurants and other retail to close he had to lay off some employees. Dutch Bakery did curbside pickup to stay afloat.
While pastries are definitely a draw most people come for the Tulips. More than 30,000 bulbs are planted around Orange City in the fall. By Festival time the bright colored flowers are in full bloom. Carey Dresser points out a couple of her favorites in her yard, a pink tulip with some yellow, and an orange tulip.
KERI DRESCHER: The blushing Beauty and the El Nino, they're just a big giant tulip. They always bloom beautifully.
KATIE PEIKES: Keri co-owns Tulip town Bulb Company with her husband Dan. They import bulbs from the Netherlands and plant about three thousand for the festival. People visit the Dressers to pre-order bulbs for their own yards and gardens. They say tulips are pretty easy to care for.
KERI DRESCHER: People that can't garden can grow tulips.
DAN DRESCHER: You can plant them completely incorrectly and upside down and they'll turn themselves over, and push themselves through. They're pretty resilient.
KATIE PEIKES: Sten Muchow and his family admire the tulips. They moved from Portugal to the U.S. last year and drove an RV six hours from Minnesota to Orange City.
STEN MUCHOW: We wanted to get out, and she wanted to come and see this down here. And now that we have the RV we're camping every weekend and going out.
KATIE PEIKES: Orange City isn't the only town that holds a big Dutch festival. About four hours away in central Iowa color Pella's Tulip Time is a huge economic booster. Valerie Van Kooten is with Pella Historical Society and Museums.
VALERIE VAN KOOTEN: Tulip Time brings in two to three million dollars to a 30 mile radius of Pella to the restaurants and the hotels.
KATIE PEIKES: Van Kooten says Tulip Time saw around 160,000 people this year, fewer than a normal year, but more than expected. She says last year's cancelled festival had a silver lining.
VALERIE VAN KOOTEN: A lot of people realized, "Oh wow, if Tulip Time were to go away it would really hurt this community."
KATIE PEIKES: And that's something a lot of towns have realized, their businesses and sometimes much of their economy depend on these big festivals. Katie Peikes, Harvest Public Media.
KAYTE YOUNG: Find more from this reporting collective at HarvestPublicMedia.org. That's it for our show, thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.
Earth Eats is produced on the campus of Indiana University. We wish to acknowledge and honor the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee people on whose ancestral homelands and resources Indiana University Bloomington is built.
RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Julie Guthman, Jason and Nicole Evans Groth, and Carl Pearson.
RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.