Stephanie and Andrea French describe the days leading up to Thanksgiving as the busiest of their lives. Three years ago, the pair packed oven mitts and a small coffee roaster into an old ceramic studio and set out to fill a hole in Vancouver’s culinary landscape with dough, fruit, and pumpkin puree. Operating out of a 300 sq.-ft. microspace in Vancouver’s Chinatown, the sisters make their pies from scratch, using mostly local, organic ingredients. They call their pint-sized bakery The Pie Shoppe.
Pie seems like an easy gig, but the sisters say that with this dessert, the stakes are high. “We are always amused by how pie taps into childhood experiences; you develop relationships with people around a product that’s very emotional,” Stephanie says. Andrea elaborates: “Our grandfather liked apple pie with a slice of cheddar—that was his thing,” she says. “Also raspberry pie, but not too much because the seeds would get caught in his teeth.” These memories stick, and help define an individual’s taste preferences in adulthood. “That becomes our thing: the cheese, the raspberries, the seeds,” explains Stephanie. “Other people have strawberry rhubarb—that’s the only pie they’ll eat because their grandmother made it. We’re working with cultural anthropology here.”
So, what makes their pies special? “Flour, butter, half shortening, and a bit of water,” Stephanie says. The sisters say they aren’t deconstructing anything; instead of putting a contemporary twist on things, as is a common trend in baked goods today, they stick to the history. “We’re not making it modern,” Andrea explains. “We decided not to put bacon in stuff, not to infuse anything. Our recipes are hundreds of years old. We’re not reinventing—we’re making things simple.”
From flour to table, pie-making for the French sisters is a humble task. In the summer they drive to the Okanagan and fill their truck with picked-ripe fruit; in the winter they roast pumpkins grown by Inner City Farms. They use unbleached flour, local butter, and free-range eggs. This Thanksgiving’s menu includes salted honey, pumpkin and spice, and lemon chess with orange bitters. The magic behind The Pie Shoppe doesn’t come from vodka in the pastry, or butter churned under the light of a full moon—it comes from the love and care put into every aspect. Each ingredient has been treated with respect and assembled by the experienced hands of girls who grew up with flour in their hair and cheddar with their apple pie.