Pie lady a market fixture for two decades
Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 06:00 am
Last Saturday the weather during the St. Albert Farmers’ Market was overcast with clouds threatening to drizzle. It was the kind of day that made people want to curl up on a comfy sofa with a good book and a slice of hot, oven-baked pie.
And just like ducks flying south in a V formation, shoppers were flocking to Monica Brisebois’ pie stand for some good old-fashioned home and hearth goodness.
Brisebois has sold frozen pies around the area for 31 years – 22 of those at St. Albert’s outdoor summer market. Several generations of shoppers buy the raw pies and bake the nine-inchers using instructions in the box.
Her specialty is fruit pies – apple, blueberry, cherry, raisin, strawberry rhubarb, raspberry rhubarb, Saskatoon and peach. She even makes a couple of seasonal pies including pumpkin for Thanksgiving.
A mother of four children, she has made pies since she was a kid at her parents’ Milk River home.
“Who doesn’t like pie?” Brisebois asks, adding that the humble pastry has an emotional attachment for many.
“It’s as old as the hills. It’s what everybody’s mom made.”
The Sherwood Park acreage owner shifted into a pie-making adventure by accident. Her husband Hector, an employee for Dow Chemical, occasionally worked the night shift.
“When the guys worked the nights, every once in a while the wives would send in munchies. I’d send in a pie. One guy, a bachelor, asked if I would make pies for the freezer. Another guy asked if I’d make him pies and it mushroomed from there. And then we thought, ‘why not try a farmers’ market.’”
At this point, the kids had arrived and Brisebois knew her future was as a stay-at-home mom.
“But I needed something to do. I was not a sit around, have coffee and watch soap operas kind of person. I needed something to do. And the idea of offering frozen pies so you can bake them yourself was ideal. What could be better? Your house smells of freshly baked pie and it takes no time.”
She installed a commercial kitchen in her basement and planted raspberry and saskatoon bushes and rhubarb on her acreage. After locating a fruit supplier from British Columbia, the industrious pastry cook put in orders for apples and peaches.
“He stores them for me and after Thanksgiving, I peel, slice and freeze and when I want them in May, I thaw them out and make pies. But it requires a lot of freezer space.”
Brisebois has also built a 10-foot by 15-foot walk-in freezer that packs saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries and peaches.
While Hector tended the fruit garden, the children became fixtures at the markets.
“I pretty much raised them (kids) behind my table. When they started kindergarten, none could spell their name, but they could make change for a 20.”
Using her mother’s recipe, Brisebois makes an average of 15 pies per hour and bakes them in a convection oven. On the industrial level, 15 pies may not seem like much until you realize she rolls them one pie at a time.
“I looked at machines and rollers, and thought I want home-made pies. I don’t want a machine making my pies. So I make one pie at a time.”
Once the raw pies are made, they are frozen and transported to markets in a van. The back seats have been stripped and replaced with a freezer. At the market, the pies are transferred to blue plastic coolers for quick sales.
So what is Brisebois’ favourite pie? Banana cream she answers. So why is it not on the menu?
“Banana cream has to be kept at a certain temperature and it’s cooked. You have to cook a crust and it requires different storage and different transport and a different system. It’s certainly doable, but when I can’t keep up with the demand there’s no point in expanding the line.”
Brisebois is understandably proud of her mini pie producing empire and of how its cultivation has strengthened and bonded her family. Possibly one of the market’s longest-running vendors, Brisebois is talking about retiring in a few years. She’d like to take a summer vacation with Hector in their fifth-wheeler and enjoy the grandchildren.
“I have three grandchildren and one on the way. My priorities are changing. Babies are young for such a short period.”
Proud of the brand she’s created, Brisebois is about more than selling a product. She’s about championing tasty home-cooked food that brings families together and creates memories.