Writer Keia Mastrianni Has Built a Bakery—and a Sweet Life— in Charlotte, North Carolina
High pie season, the time of year that begins in October and spans through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, is a maelstrom of flour, butter, grit, and perseverance. It's the Super Bowl for bakers across the nation. At Milk Glass Pie, my farm-based bakery in western North Carolina, it's no different. The refrigerator is stacked with disks of tightly wrapped pastry dough. Skyscrapers of crimped pie shells inhabit the bulk of the freezer's real estate. Hundreds of eggs await cracking. The spreadsheet of orders, with its dizzying pattern of Xs running up and down multiple columns, eerily resembles The Matrix. The madness starts weeks before Thanksgiving and slowly builds into a crescendo of flour dust and recipe math. Days upon days at the baking table, just me and a rolling pin, culminate in the crowning feat of the year: racks and tables laden with neat white boxes, golden crusts, and another record season well done.
I didn't come to baking from a long line of matriarchs steeped in Southern tradition, nor did I arrive by way of formal training. Baking was a hobby that emerged alongside a budding food-writing career. I had a notion to create things by hand. I longed to acquire the fine skill of "whipping something up." Making pie felt Southern, domestic—two things that I was not.
Food writing introduced me to a roster of interesting people, including many bakers, and I soon found myself a student at those bakeries, taking workshops on pie and other pastries. At first, making an entire pie from start to finish was an all-day affair, a monumental and painstaking task that was worth it. I bumbled along, writing stories for work and baking when I could for no one in particular. Then in 2014, I wrote a story about a farmer, and that changed everything.
As I suspect is true with most good things, the twin gifts of baking and love came unexpectedly, like an anvil on the head. I fell in love with this art because, well, I fell in love.
At the time, I lived in a small rental in one of the old mill villages in Charlotte. The kitchen was adequate, the counter space was dismal, and there was a little oven that could barely fit two baking sheets. Adjacent to this galley was just enough room for an efficiency-size Ikea table and two chairs.
One Saturday, I set a slice of buttermilk chess pie on that table for one very specific person—the farmer I had written about who had made a habit of visiting me after market on the weekends. He enjoyed it, forkful by deliberate forkful, savoring each bite. When he finished, he looked up and said, "No one's ever made me a pie before."
The first holiday we shared, he got me a pie cookbook. The inscription was simple, appropriate for a relationship barely in bloom. It read: "Merry Christmas. Love is pie!"
Our second holiday together, he inscribed another cookbook, addressing it to "My Beautiful Baker…" This suggestion felt unfounded in my opinion, not to mention the fact that it nipped at my impostor syndrome. I didn't yet consider myself a baker and wouldn't dare call what I was doing a "business," but somehow this new love of mine knew something I didn't. It would be several more years before I would embrace the term myself. Nevertheless, I kept at it, fueled by new love and courage. Milk Glass Pie began as a series of small pop-ups, my courtship with baking a parallel companion to my new partnership. It grew into a modest holiday list out of that tiny kitchen and then into another home, the one I began sharing with this farmer.
One pie turned into 10, 20 into 50, and then a brand-new life on a farm in Cleveland County, where I make my home and bakery space today. I married that farmer too. Maybe that's the highest we can hope for in love—for someone to see us, often before we see ourselves, and nurture our sweetest parts.