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Middle school English teacher Jennifer Poncelet keeps busy in the summer months with baking. Lots and lots of pie baking for her Pie & Joy.
"My favorite place outside the classroom is my kitchen," she said. "It's obvious that I have a small pie factory in my house."
After starting with online orders, Poncelet decided to branch out to the farmers market closest to her home, but there was a hitch: Would shoppers want to buy an entire pie? That question became the genesis for the delightful single-serving goodies that she models on that supermarket staple, the Pop-Tart.
She skips the hyphen, and the toaster. Like the best pies, Poncelet's Pop Tarts ($5) are beautiful, ingenious and delicious.
And uncomplicated. She cuts flaky and tender butter-and shortening-powered pie crust into rectangles, adds some kind of delicious filling, tops with a second pie crust layer and crimps the edges with a fork. There's often a final flourish in the form of colorful icings or sprinkles.
Poncelet's stand features a half-dozen varieties, with fillings that run the gamut: apples, peaches, brownies, a brown sugar-cinnamon mix. There are whole pies, too, primarily on a pre-order basis, and during the school year Poncelet keeps in contact with her devoted clientele by offering pop-ups on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and other holidays.
"People love to talk about pie," she said. "Food connects us in so many ways. I believe that food is memories. It's family. It's joy."
Hits the spot
When Beauclarc Thomas was growing up in Liberia, ginger was a staple in his mother's kitchen. It now plays a starring role at Pure Ginger for You, the fresh juice operation that Thomas, an architectural designer, created this year.
There are three ultra-refreshing flavors — orange, apple and celery — and the invigorating ginger kick comes shining through with every sip.
Each nutrient-packed 12-ounce bottle ($6) is prepared in a Maplewood commercial kitchen on the day it's sold, using a cold-press method. When it comes to sourcing, Thomas is scrupulous; for example, some of his ginger is cultivated on an organic farm near Kenyon, Minn.
Here's a tip: Arrive early, because sellouts are not unusual. Those booming sales are sparking the gregarious Thomas to invest in larger juicing capacity.
"I never expected this success," he said. "My ultimate goal is to open a juice bar."
Puregingerforyou.com, available at Minnetonka Farmers Market, 14600 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka, minnetonkamn.gov, Tuesdays from 3-7 p.m.; Maple Grove Farmers Market, 12951 Weaver Lake Road, Maple Grove, maplegrovefarmersmarket.com, Thursdays from 3-7 p.m.; and Mill City Farmers Market, 704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., millcityfarmersmarket.org, Saturdays from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
Boozing it up
"I'm always baking, and it has brought me lots of joy," said Tom Senn, creator of Toasted Tom's Mixology Granola.
When the pandemic hit, Senn started looking for a project, and eventually turned to the granola that's he's been making for 20 years. The recipe has been a favorite with Senn's most important test market — his husband — so why not try it out with the general public?
The idea of introducing a cocktail theme to his oats- and nuts-centric formula grew out of Senn's interest in "The Great British Baking Show."
"I've probably watched way too many episodes," he said with a laugh. "They put liquor in everything."
The strategy certainly works here. Amaretto boosts the almond aura of a sour cherry-coconut mix, and bourbon accentuates the richness of dark chocolate, raspberries and pumpkin seeds.
There are five standard formulas in Senn's repertoire, along with seasonal entries such as strawberry-rhubarb Mimosa, made with a champagne syrup. Twelve-ounce bags are $12, and with each purchase Senn donates a dollar to Second Harvest Heartland.
Senn hasn't decided if he'll make the leap to commercial production — for now, he's turned their Minneapolis kitchen into a production facility, thanks to the state's cottage food law — and he's enjoying his time at the farmers market.
"I had no idea what to expect, and so far the farmers market has been great," he said. "It's fascinating — it's a whole different world, and it's right in our neighborhood."
For years, Steve Horner of Horner's Corner has earned a well-regarded reputation for the top-quality maple products — syrups, sugar, vinegars — that he produces by tapping 3,000 trees on his hilly western Wisconsin acreage.
Always the tinkerer, Horner has recently directed his ever-present curiosity toward the treasures locked inside birch trees.
"I have a lot of birch on the property," he said. "The maple and birch seasons don't overlap, they're back-to-back, and that makes it difficult to do after all the maple mess. But there is so much great flavor in birch sap."
After tapping 500 trees, Horner transformed a few hundred gallons of birch sap into a genuine rarity: a modest line of birch syrups and vinegars. The taste-of-the-Midwest flavor is lovely, much quieter than maple's robust bite, with gentle citrus and wintergreen notes.
"It's got a hint of what you smell when birch bark burns in a fire," said Horner. "I've made sushi rice with it, I've used it in salads. We use it anyplace you would use vinegar."
To the despair of curious cooks everywhere, the syrups have already sold out. The extraordinary vinegars ($16 for 8 ounces), their fermented sharpness mellowed with sweet pears, are in short supply. Hurry in.
Hornerscorner-wi.com, available at the Mill City Farmers Market, 704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., millcityfarmersmarket.org, Saturdays from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
Berry patch beverage
Twin Cities Berry Co. farmer/owner Andy Petran is constantly on the hunt for new ways to make the most of his harvest, especially his "B" grade fruit, the berries that don't quite pass his rigorous aesthetic standards. He had been routing them to jam, pie and kombucha makers, but no more.
"A way to diversify my revenue stream is by producing my own goods," he said, which explains his popular fruit leathers and now his sweet-tangy shrubs ($13), in strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb and strawberry-raspberry flavors.
As always, Petran, a plant biologist, used his scientific background to create this latest vinegar-based product line, diving deep into research and enlisting friends — and survey protocols — to study and rate 12 possible outcomes. The top three are now on the market.
Petran enjoys his berry shrubs mixed with sparkling water and garnished with mint, but he's also created a YouTube how-to video that shrubs up a trio of cocktails.
"If I didn't make processed goods, I'd be in big trouble as a farmer," he said. "The decision to diversify my revenue stream is paying dividends for me."
Newlyweds Ahreum Kim and Nick Ng had a joint desire to create a product that would reflect their backgrounds: She's a South Korea transplant and he grew up in Minnesota.
"We looked at the supermarket and realized that there aren't a lot of new items in the spreads category," said Ng. "It's basically preserves, jams, jellies, nut butters and Nutella, and that's it."
Until now. Behold ooyoo spreads ($5 to $16), sumptuous dairy-based concoctions (ooyoo is Korean for "milk") infused with highly appealing flavors, from Earl Grey tea to a cocoa powder-peppermint oil blend that gloriously mimics the goodness of a classic Girl Scout cookie.
"Ahreum came up with that flavor by accident," said Ng. "When I said, 'This tastes exactly like a Thin Mint,' she said, 'What's a Thin Mint?' She had no idea that she had just dialed into that nostalgic flavor profile."
Let's just say that it was born to be served over ice cream. Or, as the label on the jar suggests, "Just with a spoon."
Ooyooyum.com, available at Northeast Farmers Market, 629 NE. 2nd St., Mpls., northeastfarmersmarket.com, Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; and Nokomis Farmers Market, 52nd Street and Chicago Avenue S., Mpls., neighborhoodrootsmn.org, Wednesdays from 4-8 p.m.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib