Baker Spotlight: Angela Rowley, of Blackbird Foods, Is Taking Meat Pies to Another Level
Just because it's a pie doesn't mean it has to be sweet. Angela Rowley, owner of Blackbird Foods, chose to focus her business on savory meat pies. Growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, introduced Rowley to the flavors and spices of Cajun cuisine at a young age.
Photo by Molly Dunn Angela Rowley merges her love for gastropubs with savory pies, with tasty results.
"I have always baked pretty much my whole life," Rowley says. "Even when I was a kid, I used to bake from scratch, which at the time I used to not think anything of, but my grandparents would brag on me and be like, 'Oh, she bakes everything from scratch.'"
All of the pies Rowley bakes for her company are inspired by food memories -- the Cajun-style fried pies her Great Aunt Rose brought to family reunions, or the pies she feasted on while living in England.
"I went over and lived in England for a while and I really fell in love with the pies there," Rowley says. "And then you just start to make the connection in your mind that there are pies all around the world and you have them in different cultures. So when I came back, I was craving the British-style pies, and I married a Brit, too, so that just sort of led to me developing it."
Rowley worked at The Ginger Man in Houston before traveling to England. Once she went across the pond, she began working primarily in bars, including The White Horse on Parsons Green, which sparked her love for gastro-beer establishments. She lived in England for two years.
"Just by chance I ended up working at The White Horse on Parsons Green, which is like this world-famous pub and actually is one of the first gastropubs that you see over there -- it is this more elevated level of cooking," Rowley says. "I just love the whole pub and bar culture, and the pies are such a part of that. There, you see, they make these gorgeous pies and they aren't just the corner-shop pies; they are gourmet, boutique pies."
Photo by Molly Dunn "Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie."
Now Rowley has her own business, Blackbird Foods, and sells her pies at several bars in Houston. The Hay Merchant, which she manages part-time, carries her Cajun pies, Underbelly carries her pork pies, and she still caters large parties for The Ginger Man. Rowley also markets her wares at Urban Harvest on Wednesdays and at the Eastside Farmers Market on Sundays.
"The main ones that I sell at the farmers' market are the personal-size pies," Rowley says. "The Cajun pies that they do for Hay Merchant are just little pies, sort of like to snack on, like two or three. The pork ones, the one they have here [at Underbelly], are to me large enough for two people, I guess, or one hungry person."
Photo by Molly Dunn The pork pie at Underbelly is big enough for two people to share.
In fact, the pork pie was the first savory pie Rowley ever made. Her recipe uses a pastry that is different from those used for most other pies: It's a hot-water crust.
"It's the only pastry that you make while it is warm," she says. "So you boil some leaf lard, which is some really nice suet, and then some butter, and you bring that to almost boiling; you add that back into the flour, so you work with it warm -- then you have to cool it down -- rather than cool. It's traditional for the pie. It's a really lasting, durable crust; it's very forgiving, and actually, with the British-style pork pies, it was a way to preserve your meat."
Rowley explains that, in the past, the British wouldn't eat the crust -- they wanted only the meat.
"So this is almost just to encase it, although I make a good one that you want to eat," she says. "When you cook it, you let it cool down and then fill it with stock, and what the stock has is antibacterial properties naturally from the bone. So it's something that you can keep on your pantry shelf for a couple of weeks. I recommend in the Houston climate to definitely refrigerate it."