Alice's Pies

Tasty goodness, any way you slice it

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A new pie shop—what a relief. In a world of cutesy cakepops, elaborately decorated blog-worthy cookies and adorable cupcakes, the modest pie is making a comeback.

My ill feelings toward the smaller, more charming confections are complicated. I appreciate the skill that goes into their creation. I admit they are indeed adorable, and I urge any and all with a sweet tooth to live it up in any fashion they so choose—I’m of the strong opinion that food is for enjoying. I’m not trying to begin an anti-dessert diatribe; it’s just that something about pie is so appealing to me.

Pie is rooted in American history and elicits imagery of our grandmothers’ hands rolling crust in some sun-dusty kitchen. Pie isn’t typically a featured food in housewife magazines. Pie is neither glamorous nor bland. Pie is kind of romantic, but not showy. Pie doesn’t make grand gestures or talk too loud. It is steady, doesn’t mind hard work, and prefers the quiet of early evening hours. Here’s what it boils down to: pie is unpretentious, and if done right, a perfect blend of butter and fruit, with just a little sweetness.

It makes sense then that Alice’s Pies is in the Bellingham Farmers Market, among soil-stained vegetables and handspun yarn, fresh-roasted coffee and kids with harmonicas. Pie works in this setting more than anywhere else, and when Alice cuts a messy slice and slides it into a little brown paper boat to give you, it is O.K. that it is imperfect. Imperfection is practically a requirement of good pie.

Alice’s pies—which are made by hand by Bellingham resident Alice Clark—are just that: they hold together enough to be sliced, but as soon as a bite reaches your mouth, all the different elements are trembling to fall apart, and soon enough you can identify each little bit.

In the apple pie you get a crumbled, buttery flake of crust, a still firm apple slice with a hint of sweetness, that cosmic, gooey substance that I think is formed from the flour meeting with sugar. I’m not sure what that substance is, but it lends a creaminess to the pie that keeps the whole thing pleasantly devoid of any dryness.

The chocolate bourbon pecan pie was an entirely different experience. Intensely rich, loaded with chocolate morsels and perfectly soft pecans, and cradled within a delicate yet structurally sound crust, this little sliver of pie was an act of good architecture. Though it looked skimpy at first, it immediately became clear that just a small slice of this pie was more decadence than a person could probably ingest anyway. I’d never seen a pecan pie with quite as much personality as this one: it was sweet but somehow hearty, robust with dark chocolate and rendered more complex with the faintest oaky bourbon flavoring.

At $3.50 a slice, it is an affordable luxury, especially for those of us lacking the wherewithal to whip up a pie at home for no specific occasion. If you’re feeling particularly gluttonous you can buy a miniature pie for $10, or take home a full-size pie to surprise those lazy family members or roommates who didn’t manage to make it to the market.

When I was there, both apple and rhubarb pies were $18, while the chocolate bourbon pecan ran $20. All varieties sold out before the market closed, and the rhubarb was gone by the time I arrived at 12:30pm, so I’d recommend getting there early if you’re particular about the type of pie you treat yourself to.

It’s common to be either a “cake person” or a “pie person,” and while I don’t condone competition between foods—there’s room for all of it, I promise!—I’m certain a slice of Alice’s Pie could convert even a stubborn cake lover.

Find more Sally on her food blog, http://www.wolfsoup.com

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