With Maine’s annual strawberry crop at its ripe, juicy peak, I decided that this was an excellent time to try a seasonal favorite from The Blackbird Baking Company of Maine.
“Blackbird,” as I tend to refer to it as, is owned and operated by Stacy Begin, a South Portland wife and mother who started the company last summer. Begin works from her kitchen, which she has had licensed by the State of Maine as a home bakery.
Despite the lack of a storefront, ordering pies from Blackbird couldn’t be easier. The menu—updated every couple of weeks—can be found on the company’s Facebook page. Additionally, customers can subscribe to Begin’s email newsletter which provides them with the latest menu in PDF and Word document formats. All pies are $15, unless otherwise stated on the menu. Other goodies, like blueberry muffins and Snickers Rice Crispie Treats, sell for $6/dozen and $8/dozen, respectively. Begin accepts orders via telephone, Facebook and email, and she requests 48 hours notice. Best of all, she offers free delivery from Scarborough to Freeport/Yarmouth, and all areas in between… a lifesaver during the busy holiday season and the harsh winter months.
Oh, and remember that bit about Blackbird not having a brick and mortar storefront? Well, that’s changing, too. Begin also sells mini-pies, which—in addition to being ordered directly from her—can be found at Mornings in Paris on Exchange Street (Portland). She will also have a presence this summer at the South Portland Farmer’s Market (Thursdays from 3pm to 7pm at Thomas Knight Park, just over the Casco Bay Bridge).
Begin updates her menu regularly, emphasizing both seasonal favorites and local, fresh ingredients. Her July 4 menu featured a number of tantalizing options, including blueberry nectarine pie, apricot pie and a three berry pie. But the one that caught my attention was “Memere’s Strawberry Pie,” which was billed as follows:
My grandmother’s outstanding recipe, this one crust pie is a family favorite. Because the berries are not
cooked in the filling, it can only be made when the berries are at the height of the season. Ripe, juicy
strawberries are bathed in a glaze of crushed strawberries and sugar.
That was more than enough to sell me. I emailed Stacy with my order and she replied back a couple of hours later to confirm the time and date of my delivery. I’ve ordered from her enough at this point that we have a sort of shorthand in place and, in the event that I’m not going to be home when she delivers, she is always happy to set the pie on a table in the entry area of my house (or, if the weather is hot, inside a cooler that I leave out). I mention this in hopes that customers will not take advantage of Stacy’s goodwill… please folks—don’t have her crawling through windows or dropping your pies off with the neighbors. (Incidentally, one of the things that I really enjoy about ordering from Stacy is that she almost always imparts some bit of pie wisdom with each order. Whether its a suggestion of what to serve the pie with, or some advice as to what temperature to serve it at, I always appreciate these little tidbits.)
A couple of days after ordering, I arrived home to find a delicious looking strawberry pie waiting for me. As great as Stacy’s pies look, the first thing I tend to notice is how few ingredients she uses. A small white label on the top of the transparent plastic pie case spells out the ingredients for each of the pie components (generally, crust and filling). In total, there were less than a dozen ingredients in my strawberry pie, and all of them words that I had heard before: strawberries, sugar, shortening, butter, etc… While Stacy’s pies definitely aren’t low in sugar or fat, those labels are thankfully devoid of impossibly small-print references to garbage like “polyglucowhatchamacallit” or “dextromethagiveyoucancer.”
The generously sized strawberry pie—like so many of the desserts I’ve tried from the Blackbird Baking Company of Maine—is a unique and memorable experience. For starters, it is just stunning to look at. Deep red berries sit in stark contrast to the ring of golden crust that encases them. The top of the pie is dotted with huge, whole strawberries, their tiny seeds visible through the thick red glaze, reminding you that you are, in fact, about to eat a dish made with fresh, flavorful ingredients.
Taking your first bite of the pie, its impossible not to encounter one of the many huge slices of strawberry that make up the majority of the filling. Tender and juicy, each magnificent berry tastes as if it were cultivated solely for the purpose of belonging on this pie on this plate at this time. Binding them together is a rich glaze composed of crushed strawberries and sugar. I nearly fell into a sugar coma just looking at the pie, so I was a little worried that the crimson-colored glaze might prove to be too sweet and overpower the berries themselves, but that was not the case. Somehow—be it a testament to the flavorful strawberries, the adage that less is more, or perhaps it is simply Stacy’s prowess as a pie maker—the strawberries themselves manage to shine as the dominant flavor in the pie.
Holding it all together is a buttery, flaky crust that borders on the divine. How this crust manages to be as tasty as it is, while stabilizing the filling as well as it does, is a mystery for the ages. If Stacy didn’t spell out her ingredients so clearly, I might accuse her of some form of culinary witchcraft involving angels’ wings or the souls of kittens. Alas, I’m pretty sure that it boils down to a master of her craft using the right ingredients in perfect combination.
All and all, “Memere’s Strawberry Pie” is another in a seemingly endless string of home runs emerging from the kitchen of the The Blackbird Baking Company of Maine. If you should encounter this posting too late to order the strawberry pie, fear not. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
If you’re thinking about ordering from Stacy, be aware that The Blackbird Baking Company of Maine will be closed from July 23 to July 30th, for vacation. Stacy will be back to work in her kitchen on July 31st.