By Jaime Becktel
It’s possible that I’ve died and gone to some hell-like place where I can see the assortment of baked goods, smell their steaming sweetness and even taste them at the back of my throat where the sensory overlap of nose and tongue come together, but I can’t actually put a single one of Shoshana Winer’s creations in my mouth (sad descending horn noise). I’m doing a 30-day cleanse. Excellent for the body, detrimental to morale since sugar, dairy and flour are excommunicated from the church of all things I want to cram into my face on this Saturday at the Cortez Farmers Market.
Crestfallen, I watch a child depart the Pie Maker’s tent slurping the piping wonderment of homemade hot cocoa. I gaze forlornly as smiling customers withdraw into the bliss of their savory pies; jam cookies filled with glistening preserves; apricot scones; and most distressing, The Fisherman Sandwich: a handmade bagel slathered with cream cheese and crown jeweled with a slice of wild-caught, smoked Alaskan salmon, slivered onions, fresh dill and ripe, local tomatoes.
Behind throngs of market-goers jockeying for their morning joy presides a young woman with a permanent beamer of a smile known by most as Shani, The Pie Maker. By her side is her man, Tim Stubbs, the “Pie Guy.”
Named after her great-grandmother, Shoshana “Shani” Winer grew up in New England in a family where food was a central, unifying theme. “In Jewish culture, so much revolves around food: stories, songs, traditions, sharing and family,” she says. “Baking has been a part of my life since childhood when my mother taught me how to make homemade hamantaschen; jam-filled pocket cookies found in traditional Jewish cuisine from a recipe passed down by multiple generations of women in my family.”
The Pie Maker was not always a baker. Her meandering path carried her through science labs and art studios until she began to desire something more wholesome and fulfilling. In 2006, she met Tim, an interpretive ranger at Mesa Verde National Park, fell in love, moved to Mancos and a year later landed her first baking position at the Absolute Bakery Café. She later worked at Bread in Durango, but seemed to have a never-ending cavalcade of questions about the technical processes of baking. Her quest for deeper knowledge eventually took her to Portland where she enrolled in the Oregon Culinary Institute.
While studying, she took an apprenticeship at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, a French Patisserie, where she found that the quality was staggeringly high and the margin for rookie mistakes humbling. In this incubator of impeccable standards and rigorous training, she developed an intuitive understanding of recipe chemistry. After two years in Portland, she returned to Mancos to build her small-town presence as The Pie Maker.
As a New Englander, Shani fondly recalled Amish whoopie pies from Boston and fresh bagels from upstate New York. “When I moved west, I missed these things, so I decided to make them myself with healthier, organic, seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.”
These days she can be found during ungodly hours baking at the Farm Bistro in Cortez, using their kitchen for all production and providing them with dessert items for their lunch and dinner menus. “The Farm has been such a loving, generous foster family to me and we have built a great partnership. I’m lucky for my business to be cradled by this space so committed to supporting local food.”
All of the Pie Maker’s creations are handmade from scratch using the highest quality ingredients with careful consideration awarded to both seasonal and local crops. Like a Dutch still life painting that you can actually eat, Shani’s sweet and savory delights are esthetically lovely. “They say people eat with their eyes first, so I want them to enjoy my baked goods on many levels.”
Her favorite thing to bake? Pie! “As a culture, we have such nostalgia for pie. Pies are iconic. They represent the holidays, connection and family. They’re very American, yet they go as far back as Medieval Europe.”
The pronouns representing the Pie Maker seem to switch somewhat spasmodically from “her” to “them,” and from “I” to “we” because although Shani is the baker, there is a definite team at play with the production of goods. With his bellowing, “Hot pie! Get your hot pie!” Tim is the enthusiastic promoter, photographer, taskmaster and taste-tester. He lovingly admires their portable oven/stovetop with the same admiration some men might behold a cherry red muscle car. “It’s an Easy Bake Oven for big kids! I’ve wanted one since I was 5 but I recall thinking, ‘I’m not supposed to want that. I’m pretty sure it’s for girls.’ Now, 30 years later, I finally got one!” Shani looks at Tim and, smiling, says, “Tim’s part of everything we make. He’s a part of the entire process. Most importantly, he makes sure I’m eating and sleeping and takes care of the basics.”
Nearing the end of market, with treats in-hand, adults become kids and kids are just plain hooked up and stoked. Behind the smiles and sticky fingers, bustling to and fro with the resolve of a midwife delivering handmade bagel, pie and muffin babies, Shani says, “There’s something so necessary and elemental about feeding people and there’s something so circular about what I’m doing. I love that my baking adds positive value from my happy hands to your happy hands. I make treats, like little vacations in your day. It’s like a small ‘congratulations’ for getting through whatever it was that you got through.”
Now you can bet your sweet life that, after I’m finished with this 30-day cleanse, I’ll be congratulating myself regally with a heavenly, exquisite chocolate éclair made with love by the Pie Maker Bakery.