Kat Selvocki grew up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania — close enough to Lancaster County that she developed a deep love for shoofly pie at a very young age. She now bakes pie, cooks, crafts, and gardens in Brooklyn, travels the world for inspiration, and photographs and blogs about all of it at katofalltrades.com.
In addition to her urban homesteading adventures, she works full-time for a nonprofit, teaching volunteers to paint murals, garden, and serve meals in soup kitchens and she is the proprietor of Piety, a Brooklyn-based pie bakery that uses seasonal ingredients from local farms and organic suppliers to craft pies that give your grandma a run for her money.
Kat is a former roller derby player and current manager of the Bronx Gridlock of Gotham Girls Roller Derby. She explains, “I loved skating, but wanted more time to bake pie and explore other endeavors.”
Gina: Why do you love pie?
Kat: I love pie because it’s a really homey, comforting food that is meant to be shared. I love that pie reminds me of family and of history: I grew up with homemade pies — my grandmother makes the best coconut cream pie in existence! — and I also think it’s fascinating that the ancient Egyptians and the Romans consumed pie in some form. I love it because the best pies are very seasonal; you’re not going to have the perfect peach pie in the middle of winter. And I love that the best pies don’t look flawless: they’re handmade and show it.
Gina: Who taught you to bake?
Kat: I baked cookies and other things with my mom as a child, but I’m not sure I ever made piecrust with her. I started baking pies a few years ago, when I joined my first CSA, and I found myself with an abundance of some fruits — gooseberries in particular — and I had no idea what to do with them! I remembered my grandmother and my mom baking some beautiful summer pies, and I called them both to get their crust recipes and ran with it. I didn’t really know what I was doing; I knew the crusts tasted like the ones I remembered, so I kept doing it.
Gina: When did you start Piety Bakery and what are your hopes for it? Do you have a storefront?
Kat: I started working on piety in fall of 2009. I competed in a couple of bake-offs, and baked pies for a few events and around the holidays. This year, I’m working on figuring out all of the required paperwork (New York is currently cracking down on small food businesses), and looking into ways that I can find shared commercial kitchen space for a reasonable price. I’m aiming to sell at markets and custom orders; I’m not interested in having a storefront at this time.
Gina: What are your favorite pies for each season?
Kat: Spring: Apple-rhubarb or rhubarb, straight up. Summer: Peach-blueberry and sweet cherry. Fall: Peach maple walnut and pear-cranberry. Winter: Balsamic vinegar with pomegranate and shoofly.
Gina: I notice that you offer gluten-free pie. What do make the crust with?
Kat: My gluten-free pie crust is made with a combination of tapioca, white rice, and sorghum flours. And butter. Lots of butter!
Gina: It seems like Brooklyn is in the midst of a pie renaissance. Why do you think that is and do you know the other players?
Kat: Brooklyn is in the midst of a local foods renaissance, so I think that’s a big part of why pie is back on the radar. People are creating urban homesteads and farms all over Brooklyn and participating in activities that go along with that (canning, for example), and I think people like the tradition that comes along with pie. Also, there are cupcake and cake and cookie shops aplenty around the city, and pie hasn’t been as much a part of that. It’s time for something a little different, and Brooklyn is great for being at the forefront of that shift.
I haven’t talked with the women of First Prize Pies and Four & Twenty Blackbirds yet, but I have sampled their wares and both shops make a pretty tasty pie! I have had the pleasure of meeting Lauren Cucinotta of Pie in the Park, and I’m really excited about her Kickstarter project. I’ve pledged, and will be publishing a pie recipe on my blog over the next few days to help raise awareness of the project and hopefully get her fully funded.
Gina: Please tell me about the BK Farmyards Pie Contest. Where was it held? What were the rules? Who attended? Who judged? Who won?
Kat: Jimmy’s No 43 in the East Village hosted the BK Farmyards pie contest. Jimmy’s is a great supporter of local and organic foods, and also hosts a lot of food events and cook-offs.
The only rule was that you had to make your own crust, which I think is probably the most important rule that you could have!
A variety of bakers, both professional and hobbyist, participated, including: Elizabeth Witte Kalin of Betty Brooklyn, Matthew Tilden of SCRATCHbread, Annie Novak of Growing Chefs and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Allison Kave of First Prize Pies, Emily and Melissa of Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Megan Paska of Brooklyn Honey, Joann Kim of Greenpoint Food Market, Lily & Fig, Blondie & Brownie, Lauren Cucinotta of Pie in the Park, and of course, me!
The judges included:
– Anna Broussard, pastry instructor, French Culinary Institute
– Matt Timms, Chili Takedown
The winners of each category were:
Savory: Annie Novak of Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, for her rainbow chard quiche
Sweet: Joann Kim of Greenpoint Food Market, for her strawberry-rhubarb pie
People’s Choice: Elizabeth Witte Kalin of Betty Brooklyn, for her braised short rib mini pies
Gina: Have you entered other pie contests? Do you have any tips for contestants?
Kat: This is my third bake-off (two were pie, one dessert). At the Jimmy’s bake-off, the winners kept it simple, though that hasn’t been the case with the winners of previous bake-offs. It seems that with pie bake-offs, people tend to bake sweet pies, so if you make a good savory, you’ve got a better shot. And of course, the biggest key is making a good piecrust. The judges at Jimmy’s were surprised that no one used lard (I personally prefer butter so that it’s vegetarian-friendly, though I’ve sampled some delicious lard crusts), so using a different fat in your crust could help out there as well.
Gina: Why do you think pie matters today?
Kat: I think pie matters today because of tradition and community. Pie is an amazing food to create and share with others. Technology is both bringing us together in some ways and disconnecting us in others, and it’s important to be able to sit down and interact, and good food can really help the process. I think everyone has a pie story, and so many of us remember pie from family meals when we were young, and that can be a part of today, too.