Pie-maker reflects on building her business one crust at a time

Samantha Marsh is a fourth grade teacher at Swift River Elementary in Wendell, MA. She is also a home baker who specializes in pie. You might find her on any given Friday, what she calls “Pie Friday,” kissing her husband and pet Cockapoo, Bo, goodbye before heading to school. After returning home she may make a cherry, blueberry, or apple pie, using whatever ingredients are in season at the time. 

If she’s making one pie, it could take up to three hours to complete. If she is making several pies, depending on how many orders she has from family and acquaintances, she may have started the preparations the day before. While she loves all pies, she especially likes to make blueberry pies and prefers to bake with the tiny, wild variety rather than the larger, plumper ones. Her favorite pies to eat are rhubarb, straight rhubarb, not strawberry-rhubarb, cherry, and lemon curd.

Catching the pie bug

When Marsh was a child, she always asked her parents for a birthday pie instead of cake. In her teens, she started making pies on her own. “I got pretty good at making the crust. And I feel like people started to really like it, so I kind of just went with it,” she said. “And I like pie because it is simple, but it is also celebratory. There are lots of different types of pies that you can make. I really just like pie!”  

Because of the pandemic, Marsh had more free time at home, and so she made more pies. She mostly sells to family and friends, but after the pandemic started, she put herself out there a little more on Instagram (SamanthaMadePie).  She gets more requests now. 

Her biggest order to date was for thirty pies last Thanksgiving.  A fan favorite is her spicy cinnamon chocolate pie. “It’s like a chocolate cream pie with some cayenne and cinnamon in it on a graham cracker crust. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser, especially for Thanksgiving,” she said.

Many people started food businesses out of their homes during the pandemic as a way to earn extra money or to deal with boredom. Many states have expanded their cottage food laws, though some states like Massachusetts require kitchen inspections. The digital marketplace, like using Instagram to advertise products at no cost, allows home cooks, professional chefs and restaurants to move small inventories with little spoilage.

The summer of 2020, the first summer of the COVID pandemic when everyone was isolating, Marsh said she started baking for a cause she found out about a movement through Instagram. She joined bakers across the country in Bakers Against Racism, in which home bakers sold their pies and donated the money to different organizations that stand up against racism.  

Marsh also likes to support local growers and suppliers. For instance, she got those tiny, wild blueberries from Dan’s Veggie Stand in Erving, Massachusetts in Franklin County.  And for the Bakers Against Racism challenge, she got locally-ground flour for her crusts.

Pandemic Challenges and Lessons

Because Marsh is an active person who likes to stay busy, she was quite antsy during lockdown and isolation that first year.  The pandemic also increased her anxiety level. She was worried about getting Covid or giving the virus to friends or family.  So she stayed away from people and the activities she enjoyed in the community, like going to restaurants. 

Little by little, she and her family and friends found ways to be together safely, like going on walks or having outdoor bonfires.  She and her husband got closer during the pandemic by cooking together a lot more. Her husband is not a baker, though, because he has a gluten-free diet. Marsh is dabbling a little in gluten-free baking for him. She bought a Peloton bike and did more yoga that year.  One good thing she found out about herself  was that she’s now comfortable being a bit more of a homebody than pre-pandemic.

It was hard for teachers to learn to teach online and took some drastic relearning but now she’s back to her fourth Grade classroom full-time and is glad of that. However, she said that having some flexibility with her personal and work life was another positive thing the pandemic brought to the surface for a lot of people.

Finding Meaning

Marsh said that Covid affected work but also relationships. “I’d say the pandemic definitely affected, you know, relationships with people in the community. You know, you’ve got to find out who you can trust and who you can hang out safely with, so that’s a big thing, for sure,” she said.

Finding compassion for people was something that she gained more of during the pandemic, “just understanding that people are at different places, and having a bit more compassion for the world, I think is something that could be kept after the pandemic is over.”

Whether it is teaching or baking pies, one thing Marsh loves is to make people happy, bringing joy into their lives.  She wanted people to know that making pies isn’t hard. It’s simple in fact, but “it takes patience and practice, especially the crust.” So why not go get some practice and make someone happy by baking a pie this weekend?