Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Petticoat Pie's Rachel Simmons is bringing KC a slice of comfort

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Rachel Lora Simmons is the baker and owner at Petticoat Pies.
  • Rachel Lora Simmons is the baker and owner at Petticoat Pies.
The golden crust has the hint of fingerprints, and the warm oatmeal pie is like something out of a prairie kitchen.

This is your grandma's pie, but it just happens to come from someone of her granddaughter's age. Rachel Lora Simmons, the 25-year-old owner of Petticoat Pies, moved into a space in the Farmhouse kitchen this past September. For the past two months, downtown eaters have been discovering that the new generation has a lot to say about one of the most traditional comfort foods: pie.

Simmons graduated from Rhodes College in 2008 with an English degree. Faced with a stagnant job market, she worked at a preschool and as a nanny. At the time, she was living with her parents, Charlene and David Simmons, in Leawood. In order to feel like she was contributing to the household, she began baking again, as she had with Charlene when she was a child. Simmons considered graduate schools, but her indifference to different programs made her think that her career path should instead focus on what made her happy.

"I like to do research. So I sat down and made a spreadsheet of where you could get pie in Kansas City. It was not a very long spreadsheet," Simmons says.

By her estimation, she's been baking for 24 of her 25 years. And it all started with German lebkuchen, the Christmas cookies that take two days to prepare and are, therefore, made only once a year.

"When I was 1, my mom had us putting our hands in our dough. By 2 and 3, we were helping to cut out the cookies," Simmons says.

Her love of pie was only reinforced when she was an undergraduate in Memphis, Tennessee, where pie is like a napkin — you get a slice when you sit down at a restaurant table. So she decided to bring a bit of the South to her hometown. This summer, she rented space at the Culinary Incubator in the Independence Ennovation Center and began taking her pies to the Westport Plaza Farmers Market.

"Pie is really about community. And that's what I loved about the farmers market. You saw the same people each week who wanted to know exactly what you were doing," Simmons says.

Her first big order was in August, when she was asked to make 300 of her mini pies for the Food Now event in the West Bottoms. There she gave Michael Foust, the chef and owner of the Farmhouse, a slice to take home. He invited her to use some of his extra kitchen space as a production shop for her pies and put them on his dessert menu.

"It's a great place to learn, and we share a lot of the same food philosophies," Simmons says. "Plus, I walk in the kitchen, and they're butchering a pig, or it's 9 a.m. and I'm having oysters for breakfast because they have oysters."

Simmons hopes to open a brick-and-mortar shop of her own in the next year. She sees it as a way to combine her passions for reading, education and baking. The kind of place where your check would arrive in used books and the herbs for her pies would be picked from a rooftop garden.

"People call me the pie girl or the pie lady. And I love it because pie makes people happy," Simmons says.

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