Leslie Janis practices deliberate acts of pieness from her Midtown Kansas City kitchen. Janis has a passion for pie, whether she’s in the kitchen baking, researching recipes or contemplating her next crust-filled caper.
Married to Jesse for 10 years, the couple have three children — Shepherd, 7; Lenora, 3; and Sam, 1 — with whom Leslie stays home. Raised in Texas, Janis’ baking is steeped in Southern hospitality, as she enjoys creating her own variations on a tart-filled theme.
Q: Why pie?
A: I don’t know what it is, but a piece of homemade pie is one of life’s truest pleasures. I have always loved baking ever since I was 10 years old. Pie defies being just for dessert; you can also have a slice for breakfast. I think it’s better than a bagel and, hey, it’s full of fruit.
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I also like the contained creativity that comes with pie baking. Little Freshie — which is now sadly closed — would make their own syrups using herbs, and their flavor profiles inspired me: blackberry lavender; raspberry rose; green tea pear. That’s when I decided to push the pie filling envelope and incorporate herbs into my pies. It doesn’t take a lot of fresh herbs to impart a unique taste to the pie, either. I like mixing different flavors — the sweet and the savory — and creating something unusual.
Q: You are a literal sweetie-pie.
A: Pies are meant to be shared, and they don’t have to be perfect for people to enjoy them. We live in the Squier Park neighborhood, and I feel like, as a millennial, more of our generation is interested in having a connection to family, friends and food. In a world with the live immediacy of technology, there is something very grounding about taking your time to cook and create something delicious from scratch.
In our neighborhood, we have gatherings in which people will make, say, enchiladas, and we will share food with each other. Our one neighbor makes the best tortillas, because he uses a tortilla press. In a fast world, it’s great to be part of a slow food movement. And, there are no shortcuts to scratch pie baking.
Q: As a stay-at-home mom, you seem to have your finger in many pies …
A: I love staying home with my kiddos, and they keep me plenty busy. Sometimes, I will come into my kitchen to clear my head and use my creative energy that gets a little bottled up when I feel stuck in the mundane of the day-to-day. My kids are also great helpers in the kitchen, but nap time in the middle of the day is a luxurious time for me to indulge in baking.
I come from Lindale, Texas, where food and hospitality are as important as air and water. My mother, Vicky Howie, is a wonderful cook who taught me the value of a beautifully cooked meal. She instilled in me that a full table and welcoming home will make any person feel like family. So having our house full of friends sharing life and a meal together is by far when I am happiest.
Q: Any pie-in-the-sky dreams?
A: I love the food scene and the City Market in Kansas City — but I think a little pie shop would be perfection. I can’t tell you the gratification and sense of accomplishment I feel when I pull pies out of the oven. But, it goes beyond that for me — I want to actually see people enjoy eating a piece of the pie that I made.
So, sometimes, I have a romantic notion of opening a tiny pie shop, where you can get a great slice and solid cup of joe. I can cook and bake almost anything, but above all, pie is my most favorite. There’s something so comforting about a slice of pie warm from the oven, that just hugs you tighter than cake or cookies could ever try to. Maybe it’s because a pie is meant to be shared — and serving a piece to someone is like giving them a little slice of love.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Blueberry Peach Basil Pie
Makes 1, 9-inch pie, serves 8
For the pie crusts:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/4 cup ice water, plus extra as needed
For the filling:
4 1/2 cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup raw sugar
½ teaspoon freshly zested lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons corn starch
To make the crusts: Into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fixed with a paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar and salt together until combined. With mixer running on medium speed, add butter pieces and incorporate until mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Slowly pour in ice water until the mixture just starts to come together, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. Test dough by pinching it together: dough should be soft and hold its shape.
Divide dough evenly in half. Turn each piece of dough onto its own sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a 4-inch disc. Wrap each disc of dough tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
To assemble pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove pie dough from refrigerator and place on counter top.
Meanwhile, make filling by stirring peaches, blueberries, basil, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and ground ginger together into a large mixing bowl. Set aside, allowing fruit to macerate.
Roll out 1 disc of dough on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly -floured rolling pin until it becomes a circle about 12-inches in diameter. Gently wrap pastry around rolling pin and unroll it into a glass 9-inch pie pan. Without stretching or making holes in the dough, ease pastry into pan. Allow pastry to spill over the sides of pie pan and prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Place into refrigerator.
Roll out second disc of dough on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly -floured rolling pin, until it becomes a circle about 10-inches in diameter. For a lattice topped pie, cut into 8 strips. Set aside.
Add cornstarch to filling and pour into prepared bottom crust. Gently place 10-inch round pastry on top of pie pan and seal with bottom crust by making a fluted edge, and cut at least 2 vents into top crust. If making a lattice top, basket-weave strips over filling and crimp bottom crust.
Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is hot and bubbling up.
Cool completely before slicing into 8 pieces and serving with optional freshly whipped cream or ice cream.
Per serving: 455 calories (46 percent from fat), 23 grams total fat (14 grams saturated), 62 milligrams cholesterol, 58 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 71 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.