Thursday, November 10, 2011

Petticoat Pie's Rachel Simmons, Part Two: Kansas prairie women and eating a whole pie

Petticoat Pie is all about comfort food.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Oatmeal pie is Petticoat Pies signature.
When talking to Rachel Simmons, I get the sense that she'd be willing to try and transform any dish into a pie. It's the kind of ardent fervor that has lodged bacon in the national consciousness and perhaps will allow the humble pie tin to reclaim its hold over the cupcake pan.

Yesterday, she talked about how she has been baking all her life. Tomorrow, Simmons talks about the perfect pie.

What are your culinary inspirations? It's usually what is fresh. It's what is in season, and colors. My motto is "as good for you as pie can be." Your food should be colorful, full of nutrients. These things taste good — why not put them in a pie? Some days I'll go to the market and just walk around. If it looks good and smells good, I'll give it a shot. It's a pretty organic process. It also goes back to research. I'm always reading cookbooks, magazines and blogs, and then playing around based off that. If I see something in a lasagna, I think, Why couldn't you do that as a pie? An eggplant lasagna could be made into some kind of quiche or pie. I talk to farmers and ask them what's good right now and what problems they're facing. It was a bad year for berries; the heat dries them up. This winter it'll be about comfort and things that I've preserved. I'm thinking about a Mexican hot-chocolate pie, something spicy with a little bit of rum to kind of get some heat.

Where did the name Petticoat Pies come from? It's two parts. The first is Petticoat Lane, down in the Garment District. I have three serious passions: fashion, food and literature. I think all of those are a form of storytelling. When I think about having a shop one day, I think about a boutique on Petticoat Lane. I love the history of Kansas City. My parents met at Woolf Brothers downtown. I'd love to see more businesses pop up there.

There's also this element from the women in my family. They're strong, Kansas pioneer women, hardworking German farm girls. The Christmas cookies are a family tradition. My mom used to take my sister and I out of school to make them. And they'd let us out for a half day because they knew they'd get cookies later. But when we complained, my mom would remind us of my great-grandmother. She would be doing everything on wood-burning stoves. She didn't have heat or Christmas music in the background. It's an old recipe. Everything is done by hand. And so, as a female business owner, I have this perspective about how far we've come. If my great-grandmother started a bakery, it would probably be in her husband's name. They were a lot stronger than I am. They weren't in the kitchen; they were out plowing the fields. That's where the petticoat comes from because I'm not wearing a corset.

What’s your favorite ingredient? I've been cooking with greens a lot. I've been using swiss chard, and I made a BLT pie with arugula. I'm going to try a chicken potpie, roasted with garlic, onion and sweet potatoes. I want to add in some mustard greens, too.

I recently bought a Brussels sprouts plant. It was a strange impulse buy. A farmer was telling me you can cook them up and freeze them and cook the greens as well. The same week, a friend fell into an 18-pound turkey. So all week, I had roast turkey with gravy, and I just sauteed the Brussels sprouts with butter, salt and pepper.

What was your best recent food find? The Tamale Wizard. I would shop at the farmers market in Overland Park. It was early, and I would kinda pause and linger. He started to recognize me and said, "I'll fix you up some protein and energy for your run.' That's what I want: food that will fill me up. I love the Genessee Royale burger and the cornmeal waffles. (The pies aren't there anymore, but when they were, they were good.) The roast chicken at the Blue Bird Bistro. Adam Gopnik has a collection of essays about the food scene in Paris and how people love Paris because they eat something there that is better than anything they've ever eaten. I remember I took the train to Paris from Dublin and had roast chicken with green beans. It just had garlic, salt, pepper and butter. But it was probably my favorite meal.

What’s your favorite local ingredient? I just made persimmon pie. I got some from Prairie Birthday Farm a couple of weeks ago. Persimmons tend to be kind of bitter; they taste like they've already been spiced on the tree. But these were incredible. I made a couple of pies for the Farmhouse. The processing was endless. I only got enough to make three pies. It was like pumpkin pie — just a bit of five-spice powder, milk and eggs. I didn't want to add anything more. The taste was incredible.

What’s one food you hate? I'm not a nut person. My mom made walnut pesto, and I would eat that. But I was a picky eater growing up. Nuts are the one last bastion of childhood stubbornness. We always have pecan and buttermilk pie at Thanksgiving.

What’s one food you love? Greens, sweet potatoes, roast chicken. I would die for a really good soup place to come here.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Really good bread like Fervere. Really good bread and butter is about as simple as you can get. I love cooking with butter and I cook with a lot of butter. But I don't think it's bad for you. It's just everything in moderation.

What’s always in your kitchen? Pasta. Ground beef from Wells Family Farm. They were at the farmers market with me. Eggs, butter, things you can make pancakes with. I have the best pancake recipe. The secret is that you separate the eggs. You beat the egg whites until they're fairly stiff, and then you gently fold them in so they don't collapse. It's barely any sugar and no salt. I grew up with those pancakes. I don't have a lot of kitchen equipment, so I'm usually beating those egg whites by hand, but it's worth it.

Is there a limit on the amount of pie you can eat? I don't eat as much pie as people probably expect. But I can eat an entire pie by myself. I love potpie. A barbecued-pork potpie is a soup, a stew and a pastry. It can't get better than that.

If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which one would you steal? Last fall at R Bar, chef Alex Pope made a lamb-stew potpie. It was good, the kind of comfort food that fills you with warmth.

I was allergic to chocolate growing up, so a lot of my desserts have fruit in them. I outgrew it, but I think it opened my eyes to other things. I like the ice cream at Glace. I think he [Christopher Elbow] does an awesome job with the flavors. So it's nice to have the ice cream to top the pie off. The chef at Blue Bird, Craig Howard, will send me an e-mail and tell me that he had my pear pie with the fig, goat cheese and honey ice cream from Glace.

What’s one book that every chef should read? I started with Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts. She grew up with a garden, and her catering company was based on that. It's a part of who she is, and she's out on her farm all the time. She's very detail-oriented, like she'll braid the crust all the way around. I know I'm not going to do that. My aesthetic is more rustic, more of a free-form pie. I like being able to see everything inside. She's passionate about what she does, and my business is everything of love. Also, who isn't a fan of Anthony Bourdain. Kitchen Confidential was all about the messiness and loudness of being in a kitchen. It's not all perfect plates.

Who’s got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? Everybody says Oklahoma Joe's and the Z-Man ... and that's right. Growing up, we always had Arthur Bryant's sauce. My dad makes good barbecue. He got a new smoker and fell into an obsession where he's buying massive amounts of meat and always working on new rubs. There were a couple places in Memphis, like Rendezvous. They use a dry rub with just the tiniest bit of sauce. And I love the Cozy Corner for some sweet-potato pie.

A chef is only as good as … their ingredients and their flour. I love my flour.

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