For Keia Mastrianni, the owner and head baker of Milk Glass Pie in Shelby, North Carolina, a side hustle that grew alongside an improbable romance formed her path to professional pie baking. “As a food writer, I was constantly in orbit with so many talented and inspiring chefs, bakers, farmers, and artisans,” Mastrianni remembers. “I pitched a profile of a local farmer—Jamie Swofford—and from that chance interview, for a publication that’s now defunct, Jamie’s and my relationship grew and evolved, and now we’re husband and wife.”
As Mastrianni’s love for baking burgeoned, she created a cottage bakery space on her and her husband’s farm. But the question of whether to continue her writing career or take up the pursuit professionally nagged—up until the pandemic-induced lockdown answered. During those dreadful early days, to maintain connections and to soothe, Mastrianni baked pies and delivered them to the porches of friends and neighbors every Friday. “Word spread, orders quadrupled, and my pandemic pie project that I referred to as Front Porch Pie grew exponentially,” Mastrianni says of the happy surprise. “That little community exercise gave me the answer I needed, which was to bake.”
Today, Mastrianni’s pie business is her bread and butter. Her pies amplify the connection between farmer and baker and are painstakingly crafted, with an astonishingly high level of detail. At the heart of each one lies her ability to focus and compound flavors, which this Black & Blue summer pie highlights.
It all starts with a rye crust. Mastrianni acknowledges that some home bakers may be unfamiliar with making a pie crust with rye flour, but the incorporation of a whole grain flour, with perceptible hints of bran, endosperm, and germ, assures an even more delicious outcome than solely using a less nuanced all-purpose white flour. “The use of rye flour, especially in a juicier berry pie, creates a wonderful contrast,” notes Mastrianni, who believes baking is especially rewarding when all five senses are engaged. “The rye crust is earthy and toothy.”
One practical tip she champions: using time and the high-climbing heat of the oven well. “Over the years, I’ve noticed that people aren’t baking pies long enough,” Mastrianni says. “I think people fear burning a pie, and often pull it before it’s had the necessary time to cook completely, which can result in a pale pie with an undercooked filling. Be bold when baking a fruit pie.” And don’t get discouraged; after all, as Mastrianni happily exclaims, “practice makes pie!”