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Wednesday, November 6,2013

Life of pie

DeWitt bakery owner puts out first cookbook

by Bill Castanier
Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber and national pie-baking champion Linda Hundt have more in common than just winning spirits and a shared hometown of DeWitt: One of Hundt’s 52 pie recipes in her new cookbook, “Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life” was inspired by Wieber. Hundt, who has won 16 Crisco National Pie championships, named one of her pies Jordyn’s True Champion Blueberry Raspberry Cherry Pie and called Wieber “our hometown sweetheart.”

Hundt, in a interview at her redolent and kitschy-by-design Sweetie-licious Bakery Café, 108 N. Bridge St. in DeWitt, said her mission is to change the world “one pie at a time.” If the steady stream of customers on a recent Friday is any indication of success, she is well on her way.

Hundt said when she opened her bakerycafé in 2005, people told her DeWitt was too small. But she has transformed her little corner of the world into a retro 1950s pink paean to what she likes to refer to as “simple and lovely.” At any given time, Sinatra or Crosby could be crooning on the sound system.

One of her creations, Laura’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Caramel Apple Pie, was named “best apple pie in America” by Food & Wine magazine. On Labor Day, she took her award-winning pies and the upbeat ‘50s design to Grand Rapids where she set up shop at the city’s new $30 million Downtown Market.

“It has a big city feel and we had 30,000 (guests) at the grand opening,” she said. Once Hundt took the leap into the competitive world of food service, she did not shy away from success. She’s been on “The Today Show,” and the Food Channel and has received many accolades for her creative and tasty pies. One of her bigger media events last year was when Mitt and Ann Romney made Sweetie-licious a stop on the campaign trail to help her make cherry pies. A photo of Hundt and the Romneys graced The New York Times.

Hundt’s natural tele-presence might very soon lead to a national reality TV program (she is in negotiations). The new cookbook also continues to showcase her deep community roots. Her mother, Joan McComb, wrote the foreword, and a photo of her family on bicycles shows up before shots of any of her delicious pies. Her daughters Betsie, a Central Michigan University student, and Ellie, a food scientist in Nebraska, still work in the store when they are home. Hundt has plans to open stores in southeast Michigan and somewhere up north, and she is in the process of converting an old store in downtown DeWitt into a commercial kitchen to handle the demand for her pies.

Now about that cookbook: Each pie is dedicated to someone important in her life and her mission. For example, her awardwinning Tom’s Cherry Cherry Cherry Berry Pie is dedicated to her late brother-in-law. She writes: “He continues to inspire others to be outstanding in everything they do.” Another pie is named after one of those once-ina-lifetime coincidences that brought Hundt to tears. In the book, she tells how her Little Miracle Fresh Rhubarb Custard Pie was created while working in her shop early one morning. She was preparing a special-order rhubarb pie when a couple on their way to Saginaw to visit a brother in hospice became lost and stopped by. The woman mentioned it would be nice to take a pie to her brother and asked Hundt if she happened to have a rhubarb pie, his favorite. Boy did she.

She’s named pies for her husband, John; her twin sister, Laura; her Mom, her Dad, a grandma, aunts Ella and Grace, her high school English teacher and a number of friends.

Hundt’s persistence and creativity in finding an agent and publisher for her book is not quite as miraculous as the rhubarb pie story. While searching for an agent and publisher, Hundt said she would not take no” for an answer. She said the photograph sessions for the cookbook lasted several days and involved more than 45 hours of photography. She and her staff’s pie-making abilities were stretched to the limit.

“Each pie for the book required three pies for the photography,” she said. In particular, she recalls the process for Grandma Rosella’s Lovely Lemon Meringue Pie — preserving a stiff meringue is difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. She said she made it at the shop about 10 minutes away from her home where the vast majority of the shoot was done.

“(I) drove 10 miles an hour with my flashers on,” she said. Then, five minutes after the shoot was done, “the meringue slid off.” Hundt writes how the inspiration for her business goes back to her honeymoon on Cape Cod when she and her husband stumbled across “a darling pie shop.” She wrote she was “enamored with the thought of creating my own little shop.” More than 20 years later her dreams became reality, right down to the “pink bakery boxes.”

She can also trace her love of baking back to a Christmas when she and her sister received an Easy-Bake Oven from her parents.

Sadly, the original was lost in a fire, but her husband located an identical one on eBay and surprised her with it one Christmas.

Her first cookbook is more than a handy recitation of recipes; it is meant to be an inspiration for a way of life. The award-winning pie queen stresses that pie changed her world and it can yours too. All you have to do is follow the recipes and be sure that while making your crust it is kept cold.

Linda Hundt

“Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life,” book talk and signing 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7 Schuler Books & Music (Eastwood Towne Center) 2820 Towne Center Blvd., Lansing Township schulerbooks.com,

(517) 316-7495

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