Many of us have used these quarantine months to take on new projects, like woodworking, knitting, or cleaning out closets. Others of us have gone to the kitchen to try new recipes, tweak old ones, learn new skills (sourdough), and otherwise challenge ourselves. Bill Von Bank is doing exactly that, by taking his hobby of pie-baking and turning it into a thriving cottage business.

"I decided that rather than going stir-crazy, I'd stir ingredients," he said.

Bill Von Bank sells pies under the moniker Bill the Pie Guy. (Contributed photo)
Bill Von Bank sells pies under the moniker Bill the Pie Guy. (Contributed photo)

In addition to perfecting pies, Von Bank is the director of marketing and communications for DMC Economic Development Agency. Working from home has given him the flexibility to do both.

He got his passion for baking and pies from growing up in a family of 11 on a farm in New Praque.

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"We had several big gardens, as well as fruit trees, which gave us an abundance of vegetables and fruits," he said. "My mother was an excellent cook and baker, and she has been my inspiration. She would bake all sorts of baked goods, like breads and rolls, and sell them at farmers markets in the area. In fact, my pie venture is to honor her."

Though Von Bank is not new to pie baking, his business developed last fall when he was encouraged by friends and family to sell at farmers markets. He applied for and got a cottage food license from the Department of Agriculture, put together a pop-up stand, and set up at a few local markets around Prior Lake, where he lives.

"I would take 15 to 20, and be sold out within 40 minutes," he said.

Early last December, he set up outside People's Food Co-op in Rochester, and the same thing happened.

"I took 20 pies, and in under two hours, they were all gone," he said.

Von Bank is very much committed to hunger relief, so anything he makes with these sales goes to various agencies. That day, he donated $500 to Channel One.

He has quite a lineup of pies, made mostly with fruits and berries. The big seller has been caramel apple, followed by cranberry apple, pecan, and triple berry. Others are being perfected, including one he may call "Lovers' Pie" for Valentine's Day, a fresh strawberry pie with a fudge topping.

One of Bill the Pie Guy's most popular varieties is caramel apple. (Contributed photo)
One of Bill the Pie Guy's most popular varieties is caramel apple. (Contributed photo)

While most of his recipes are his own, he has explored YouTube and found some good ones there.

"I'm always trying new ones — my neighbors are my tasters," he said.

What many of us struggle with are pie crusts. Does he?

"Yes. They are a challenge, and my goal over these next months is to perfect them. I've started to use lard as the fat, like my mother did. If I'm pressed for time, I'll use a premade crust I get at Cub foods called Everyday Essentials. What I'm after is a good flaky crust to set off the fillings," he said.

Advice for other pie bakers?

"Be patient. They take time to get right — you shouldn't really rush them."

His pies are 9 inches and sell for $20. He can be reached at billpieguymn@gmail.com.

Triple Berry Pie

The recipe is for a 9-inch pie.

Use two 9-inch pie shells — one for filling, and one for the top, with 4 slits in the center, or use 1 pie shell for filling and a lattice top (1-inch crisscross strips). YouTube is a good resource for a pie pastry dough recipe and how to create a lattice top.

Berry filling:

4-5 cups blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Suggested: 2 cups blueberries, 1 cup raspberries, 1 cup blackberries

2/3 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Zest of a lemon

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon of honey (optional)

Glaze:

1 egg, beaten with splash of cream

Sugar or cinnamon sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, combine sugar with cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon zest.

Wash the berries, and dry and place in a bowl. Add the sugar mixture and lemon juice, and mix.

Arrange the berry mixture in the pie shell. Drizzle with honey (optional), and place butter pieces on top.

Cover with second pie shell or lattice top. Brush with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes. Halfway through, add a pie shield or aluminum foil around the edges.

Remove from the oven, and let cool down and set for approximately 3 hours.

Tastes delicious with a scoop of ice cream.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.