PERRYSBURG — Artist Robert Vanitvelt has applied his creative skills to artisanal pies.
His latest creation is a Spiced Apple Pie with Hot Sauce.
“The secret to a really good apple pie is to add one sour apple,” Vanitvelt said. “I add a hot sauce, to give a fun edge. It adds a red hot flavor to them.
“Since it’s apple pie, you don’t get the heat, you just get the flavor. When it’s in your mouth, it’s a really nice and well rounded flavor.”
He adds several squirts from the Sriracha squeeze bottle.
“It’s just a little bit of Sriracha and chili powder that I like,” Vanitvelt said. “But you have to root it with cloves, because without it you just get hot sauce in a pie.”
He likes to compare the twist on the taste to a Mexican coffee or hot chocolate that has a spicy kick.
“If you want it really sweet, add a lot of sugar. If you don’t, then don’t,” he said.
He starts the creation process with most of his recipes using someone else’s recipe. He first did his crust with a standard boxed Pillsbury mix, then he read Martha Stewart’s recipe. Finally, he began adding old ideas from his grandmother, Evelyn Vanitvelt.
“She answered my questions like she knew she was passing this down,” Vanitvelt said. “I just learned to cook from her. She would say things like, ‘If you have a dry apple, you will have to add more butter to it.’”
He also likes Penzeys Spices, because they are a “thoughtful” company that also has high quality ingredients.
“I used a pie mixing one that had a whole bunch of different types of cinnamon. I noticed that if you use two different types of cinnamon, it’s really nice to combine,” Vanitvelt said. “With the lemon, the citrus flavor is in the zest, not the juice.”
He will use three different types: a Ceylon cinnamon, a Vietnamese cinnamon and a Chinese, or Tung Hing, cinnamon. Sometimes he will just use two of them, and sometimes three.
“Making this recipe, I just acted inspired based on basic knowledge,” Vanitvelt said.
His crusts are works of art. He has done leaf cut-outs, that are also colored. He will do braids of dough and creatively folded dough.
This group of pies had a tight thin lattice on top, that Vanitvelt calls a picnic basket weave. He said that you will have to double the pie crust recipe to create that.
“You will be eating four pie crusts in one … the top is like three crusts. You will have to add flour to thicken it up, 2-3 tablespoons to the filling. It helps to thicken it up and make a nice slice,” he said.
He has a suggestion for making the crust.
“Your coldest tap water possible, to bind the dough, which he runs through the food processor,” Vanitvelt said.
He makes a lot of different kinds of pies, mostly inspired by events on the calendar, like a Thanksgiving pie with a Mayflower, made of dough. He has also done a Day of the Dead pie.
Each of them looks differently, but the insides also usually have a bit of a surprise.
Vanitvelt sells his pies, but also gives many of them away. He’s found that with the pandemic many of his friends have been going through new medical issues.
“I just feel like it’s food for the soul,” Vanitvelt said. “With the insurrection, I’ve been so upset. I haven’t been able to paint and I haven’t been able to focus. But I always like to do good, to make myself feel better.”
Two of his friends’ fathers recently died from the coronavirus.
“When you’re upset. You know, nothing can quench, or make you feel better. Everyone deserves a tummy full of homemade food made with love,” Vanitvelt said. “Today you can’t hug people, but you can nourish them.”
He lives in Perrysburg with his fluffy black cat named Martin, which he adopted this past summer. You might see him walking Martin around the downtown area, inside his coat.
Vanitvelt has started monthly virtual pie making classes through www.createperrysburg.com. The next three-hour class will be on the classic chicken pot pie.
“I’m from a family of cooks, sewers, painters and artisans. When someone hurts, you give them food. You don’t ask ‘What can I do?’ You just do it,” Vanitvelt said.