Soul-warming, handmade pot pies to prepare for an icy winter
Shorter days, longer nights, and dropping temperatures mean one thing at Zingerman’s Delicatessen: pot pie season is on the horizon! A collection of six kinds of handmade pot pies flows through the Deli during the coldest months of the year.
At $11.99 for a 1-2 serving pie, the Deli’s pot pies pack a flavor punch and are a special way you can warm up your dinner table this winter. One of the best parts of the Deli’s pot pies is you can pick them up anytime and tuck them into your freezer for the next bone-chilling night. You’ll be thankful for these easy, delicious winter meals when you don’t want to trek outside!
New Year’s Day is the official kick-off the Deli’s Stock Up Sale, which offers you a bulk discount on our pies and runs through the ned of February. Our production team launched into pot pie assembly this year way back in November, to stockpile hundreds of pies to get ready for this once a year sale. The team will continue to make two to three batches a day through February. Last year, we sold over 9,000 pies (which equals over 300 batches and 18,000 portions of dough!). We’ve been seeing steady sales since the pandemic started last March, so we expect our number this year to far exceed what we produced last year. That’s a lot of pies, but it isn’t too surprising—savory pastry has provided comforting meals for centuries.
Spotlight on Meaty, Meaty Mushrooms
One of the many carefully selected ingredients for the pot pie fillings include hen of the woods mushrooms, also known as maitake in Japan. These sought after mushrooms are actually grown in abundance in western Michigan, on the bark of oak trees exclusively in the fall. Each year a group of hunters forage for these prized mushrooms and bring them to the deli. Rodger Bowser, Deli Chef and Managing Partner, has a Michigan Department of Agriculture wild mushroom certification so he can expertly and safely identify, forage, buy and sell wild mushrooms. After the mushrooms are inspected and tasted, he purchases upwards of 100 pounds of them to make it through pot pie season at the Deli. Their rich flavor and meaty texture can be found in the Fungi Pot Pie of course.
Pot Pie Production Process
Each pie is made from scratch. Vegetables, herbs, and meats are chopped and minced, then cooked in butter, thickened with a roux, and drenched in broth and cream to make a rich, savory sauce. As the rich fillings stew, the Deli team prepares the crust. Butter cuts into flour and is bound together with ice-cold water and a pinch of sea salt to make a rich dough. The Deli gives the dough a brief rest and then portions each batch into seventy-two pieces, which are rolled into thin discs, two for each pie.
Once the filling is cooled and the dough rolled out, we set upon the task of assembly. Each pie is made by hand, enveloping a heaping scoop of filling between two folded layers of buttery crust.
The History of Pot Pies
Sing a song of six pense,
Pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing-
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before a King?
Pot pies were around long before this 18th-century nursery rhyme. Their origins stem from antiquity and were a popular item on Roman banquet tables (some were known to be filled with live birds!). Elizabethan gentry of 16th century England spurred a renaissance of the ancient custom of meat pies, which were elaborately decorated and very popular among royalty on both sides of the English channel.
These pies featured not only poultry but pork, lamb, and wild game, as well. Savory pies were popular among commoners, too, providing an economical and filling dish for the laboring masses. Meat pies are featured prominently in many cultures’ collection of traditional foods. Cornish pasties, which were transplanted to the iron and copper mining towns of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Galician empanadas, and Ligurian torta pasqualinas (easter pies) are all examples of traditional savory pastries.
The Deli’s pot pies go back pretty far, too. Our Classic Chicken has been a menu staple as long as we can remember, and we’ve been making our other varieties for over a decade. Interestingly, the Deli started going big with pot pies as a way to keep our kitchen staff gainfully employed during the winter months, when business in the restaurant industry is notoriously slow.
It was during one of these winter lulls when Rodger got the idea to coax customers out of their warm homes with pot pies. Once the idea took hold, he got to work developing a full pot pie menu. The result was a menu of six distinct pies, named for the farms and growers the Deli has worked with.
When the first season of pie production launched, production was challenging at first, and the kitchen staff was a bit overwhelmed with the labor-intensive endeavor.
“We were hand-rolling all the dough—like literally, mix the dough, ball the dough, roll it with a rolling pin,” Rodger explains. “We were making hundreds of pies.”
When the pies proved popular and the process became more streamlined, the staff became enthusiastic about the new product. Over the years, the pies have become a point of pride for the whole company.