Love of baking leads to new sideline

Love of baking leads to new sideline

Stacy Begin spent part of National Pie Day last month (Sunday, Jan. 23) in the kitchen of her South Portland home, making an assortment of pies for the coming week. But National Pie Day had nothing to do with it. Begin has spent much of her “free time” since last July making pies, muffins, tarts, and cookies for a growing list of clients who order them by e-mail or from her Facebook page. At last count Begin’s fledgling, home-grown business, Blackbird Baking Company of Maine, had 52 fans on Facebook. During the holidays, her dining room table was stacked with pies wrapped in plastic, ready for delivery.

“On a really busy week, I’ll make 15-17 pies,” she says.

A Waterville native, Begin has always been a pie maker, someone whom co-workers, friends and family could count on to bring some delightful concoction to a holiday or family gathering.

With the encouragement of friends and family, she got her kitchen licensed by the state as a home bakery and started advertising via a Facebook page last July. While the first couple of weeks were slow, orders started “rolling in” during the third week and have steadily grown ever since.

Begin e-mails a new menu every two weeks that usually contains four or five pie choices, as well as an assortment of pastries. During the week of National Pie Day, the menu featured a tarte au sucre (sugar pie) for $20, and a Chinese five-spice squash pie and a classic pumpkin pie, for $17 each. For the standard price of $15, you could order a crustless coconut pie, an apple fig jam tart and a Dutch apple pie. Pear muffins, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and Aunt Bev’s blueberry muffins rounded out the menu.

Begin asks only for a 48-hour notice between the time of the order and the pie delivery. Begin doesn’t just make the pies herself; she’ll deliver them to your door between 3 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday. With the help of her husband, her distribution area at the moment extends from Yarmouth to Scarborough.

“But if there’s a demand (to deliver elsewhere) we’ll certainly find a way to meet it,” she says.

Begin, 41, and the mom of two boys ages 9 and 6, also works outside the home – as a program officer for the Davis Foundation, a charitable organization in Falmouth. She says the bakery business provides a nice balance to her working life. While her job demands academic and intellectual skills, the baking demands creativity and, at times, some physical endurance.

“It’s labor intensive,” she says. “I’m still feeling out the pattern and flow of work. It was nice to take a break after Christmas.”

Eating wonderful pastries made by her paternal grandmother nurtured Begin’s love for pie as a child. But she really didn’t learn the art of piemaking herself until she was an adult.

“It’s something that’s evolved,” she says. “Mostly from just fooling around with recipes in the kitchen.”

According to her customers, Begin’s pie business fulfills the growing desire for locally produced, freshly-made products. It also fulfills the desire most people have for a delightful dessert they can serve to guests on a special occasion or when the winter doldrums demand something fun on the family dinner table.

“Pie is tied to traditions,” says Begin. “Having pie does feel like a special treat.”

And while Begin’s pies are not by no means sugar-free, one of the things most customers notice about them is how good they are even though they aren’t the sicky-sweet concoctions they remember from childhood. A local food blogger, www.fromaway.com, sampled Begin’s raspberry pie last summer and declared it the best piece of pie he’d ever eaten because “the sugary sweetness was kept under control,” and the crust “had more in common with a Danish butter cookie than a pie crust.”

“I think her pie crust is one of the best I have ever had,” agrees Becky LeClair of South Durham, who sampled Begin’s blueberry pie recently.

“Although blueberry isn’t my favorite, I loved Stacy’s blueberry pie.”

Janet Brewer of Yarmouth has been ordering pies and pastries from Begin since one of her friends raved about them last July. She loves the convenience, and the oohs and ahhs she gets when she brings one of Begin’s pies to a meeting or event. Brewer bought a pie as a gift for her son’s teacher at Thanksgiving. And just recently, remembering she had a book club meeting coming up, she ordered two-dozen pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. When she got home from work, they were there.

“I work full time and often do not have the time to bake,” Brewer wrote in an e-mail recently. “I love the ability to order fresh, home-baked treats and have them show up on my doorstep. This is a great option for me.”

Following a short break after Christmas, Blackbird Baking Company rang in the new year with its Pie of the Month Club (January’s pie was pumpkin.) Her Super Bowl menu included Rice Krispie Treats along with some fruit pies. For Valentine’s Day, she said, “I’ll do something elegant: cherries, pears, chocolate. I do a lot of brownie pies. That and pear pie are hugely popular.”

If Begin could add one thing to her repertoire it would be such pies as banana and Boston cream. But without commercial refrigerators and freezers, home bakeries are only licensed for “shelf stable” products.

Still, Begin likes the size and scope of things right now. She has no plans to expand the business beyond her “regular-size” kitchen and her dining room table. She likes how excited her sons are when orders come in – not to mention the fun they have sampling the test recipes.

“It’s become our family business,” she says. “It’s worked out pretty well.”

A daily newspaper reporter for many years, she is now well into her second career, English teacher at Bonny Eagle High School.“Having pie does feel like a special treat, says part-time baker Stacy Begin, showing off a Dutch apple pie. She also makes muffins, top of page, and brownies, at right.Stacy Begin is all too happy to deliver her homemade pear muffins fresh to your door.Stacy Begin’s brownies are thick and rich and available with a variety of nuts and other ingredients that make them the perfect treat for a special event.

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