Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Hand pies earn applause

May/June 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Home delivery venture supports local farmers and communities

Caterer Jeremy White, left, and software engineer Duane Wilson have taken their talents in a new direction during the pandemic by selling sweet and savory hand pies made with local ingredients. Photo: © 2021 Steve German

When their businesses slowed during the pandemic, Sacramento-area friends Duane Wilson, a software engineer, and Jeremy White, a caterer, put their heads together and came up with a tasty, new business plan: baking, selling and delivering hand pies. White would be the recipe developer and baker, while Wilson would handle online programming for customer orders and delivery. A year later, the duo that created Delta Hand Pies looks back on their concept of folding a flaky crust around a sweet or savory filling of locally grown fruits or vegetables—and building an online community of hungry hand pie fans.

Tell us about the inspiration behind Delta Hand Pies. Wilson: During the stay-at-home order, I started cooking my mom's recipes, including hand pies, which are popular in South Carolina where I grew up. My friends would see photos of my hand pies on Facebook and, pretty soon, they were asking me to make hand pies for them, too. I started wondering how I could turn this into an e-commerce business. White: I've been doing catering and delivery for years, and the new business was a good way to use my staff and commercial kitchen during the pandemic.

What goes into your hand pies? Wilson: We make both savory and sweet hand pies that showcase ingredients from the Sacramento, Yolo and El Dorado county regions. We use pears and tomatoes from the Sacramento River Delta, Pink Lady apples from the foothills and vegetables grown in the valley.

Where do you get your fresh produce? White: We buy from family farms and growers at the farmers market. I live in the delta and I've known many of these farmers for years. They provide us with good produce, so we like to pay it back by promoting them. We're proud to put their names on our products.

You donate a portion of every purchase to local charities. Why? White: Duane and I met doing fundraisers in our community, so continuing to support community organizations became part of our business plan. Early on, we made pear hand pies to support the organization behind the Courtland Pear Fair, an important event in our farming community that was canceled last year due to the pandemic. Wilson: Giving back is a core principle of our business. Each month, we donate a portion of our sales to local food banks, which do a tremendous job of optimizing donations to feed people in need.

What makes hand pies so intriguing? White: There are so many versions of hand pies made by different cultures. You can taste flavors from around the world in one little pie. Wilson: Think of a pasty, empanada or a calzone. Even when the flavors are exotic, a pie still feels familiar and comforting.

White and Wilson donate a portion of their sales to local food banks. Photo: © 2021 Steve German

How many types of hand pies have you produced, and what are some customer favorites? White: We've probably created 20 to 25 seasonal pies since we began. Our spicy Japanese curry with sweet potato and squash took a while to catch on, but now it's popular. Pink Lady apple has been a perennial favorite.

What was your research and development process like? White: The most important part of the R&D process was getting the crust texture and flavor right. We wanted it to have a flaky texture and it also needed to be durable enough to hold the ingredients. I spent a lot of time tinkering around with the recipe. It was a lot of trial and error. We landed on a flaky, butter crust like you'd get on a traditional American apple pie. Now, we also make vegan and gluten-free versions.

Can you share an example of how you promote local farmers? Wilson: Last summer, we teamed up with Greene & Hemly growers in Courtland to feature their apples and pears and other delta produce in sweet and savory pies. We made a pear, chevre and walnut hand pie and also a Hemly Cider Gala apple hand pie, then co-promoted them as pairings with their Hemly Cider.

Where do you see your business going? Wilson: Right now, we're delivering to Yolo County and the Sacramento region. We're testing options like using refrigerated boxes to help us expand our territory. Our goal is to continue to source ingredients within a 35-mile radius, even as we scale up production.

Is baking your secret talent? White: I've been cooking and baking professionally for 25 years and I discovered I really like the looseness of baking hand pies. Wilson: I'm an amateur baker, but I'm pretty good at eating baked goods.

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