Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of stories planned by Cache Valley freelance writer Cindy Knowles based on the idea that everyone has an interesting story to tell.
In the year 2000 on the outskirts of Versaille, France, Amber Bingham was purchasing a pains au chocolat pastry. It is a cube shaped croissant with one or two pieces of the finest French dark chocolate melted in the center. As she was enjoying her treat in the expat city of Le Chesnay, she envisioned herself learning how to bake one day like the French pastry chefs. She also enjoyed the way the French serve a piece of chocolate at the end of each meal.
She was serving an Latter-day Saint mission at the time and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the cathedrals, Eiffel Tower and other spots of interest. The city of Le Chesnay had quite a few Latter-day Saint families and other Americans too. She was living among her very own people. At the end of her mission she returned to Utah.
As she was growing up her mother had taught her to be creative and always serve food that is beautiful. The French food also reinforced and fulfilled that training for her.
Amber met her husband, Eric, at Bear River High School in Tremonton.
“I asked him on a girl’s choice date. I was so shy and dating was always a bit awkward for me,” she said. “Eric was so talkative that I knew he would just talk the whole time and I wouldn’t have to worry about what to say! The rest is our happily ever after.”
They both went to Utah State University. She graduated in family and human development. Eric graduated in biology and got his education degree and became a science teacher at Mt. Logan Middle School.
The apartment that they originally lived in was close to campus, below Logan Bluff, and they would hike up the trail with their first baby. That same apartment later washed away in the mudslide a few years ago. Luckily they had already moved to another location.
She still had that dream to bake and met a neighbor, Mandee Monson, who was really good at baking Thanksgiving pies. That family had the tradition to make homemade pies every year. Since Amber didn’t know how to bake, Mandee invited her to come over and learn the technique of hand-mixed pie crusts and fillings.
She was surprised to find out that the best pie crusts are completely made by hand. The actual mixing is done with your hands. If you try to put the ingredients in a mixer, the dough becomes tough and loses the flaky texture.
Amber made 86 Thanksgiving pies her first year. She became so good at baking pies, her brother-in-law Brandon Erickson said she should make them professionally. He was an entrepreneur with inventions and has a dumpster hauling business.
She wanted to do it right and get trained properly. She took a free self-reliance group course through her church. The instructor, Dave Horrman, a local businessman, taught them to generate cash flow the whole year, not just Thanksgiving. This is where she got the idea to do the Pie of the Month Club. Dave created a spreadsheet for them to use in class that she still uses today. It covers rolling expenses, production, rental space, spending, and profit. He also suggested only baking certain pies seasonally to save on costs.
Amber and Eric realized that they could grow many of the fruits and vegetables on their own property for freshness and cost savings. This year they are growing apples, peaches, apricots and pumpkins. Other ingredients are sourced from farms in the area. Bananas and lemons are purchased from the grocery stores.
“It tastes better when it’s made fresh from our own homegrown ingredients,” she says.
Eric realized that their fruit was being enjoyed a bit too much by the birds and the bugs, so he purchased little silken gift bags and tied one around each apple. The apple tree looks like the fairies swooped in and gift-wrapped each apple.
Business was picking up and she was stressing where to bake and keep all the pies. She met John at Culinary Concepts and was able to rent that space a few days a week to keep up with the demands. Her Facebook page, “Pies by Amber,” gives the connections to sign up for monthly pies or custom orders for special occasions. One customer is a grandma who has an 11-year-old grandson that only wants her blueberry pie for his birthday.
Each Thanksgiving she gets larger orders. In the last five years of business, it has gone from 86 to 270, and this year one can only guess.
She has also introduced savory pies, quiches, meatball marinara, chicken pecan and curry chicken with broccoli. Some of the fruit pies are s’mores, pina colada, peaches & cream, and Dutch apple from her garden. Others are peanut butter pretzel, mint, white chocolate lemon truffle and French silk.
Christmas pies include cranberry orange, gingersnap cranberry, snowflake blueberry, and cherry chocolate cordial.
She also supplies the little pop shop The Zone in Smithfield with pie slices, brownies, protein bars and peanut butter bars. Among her new inventions are the banana split pie and raspberry lemonade pie.
Even though she is now using a commercial kitchen, the flaky crusts are still made by hand today, and the big mixers are only used for the fillings. Pecan pie doesn’t bake well in commercial ovens, so she took some time to figure out how that can work properly.
She still uses a Victorian strainer and a French sieve, and when one of the gaskets broke she searched all over and was able to get a replacement at the Smithfield Implement store which is right around the corner. Both of these gadgets help to make the creamy fillings.
Her husband, three daughters and two sons are her favorite taste testers. One daughter says, “We love Mom because she is a good cook.”
Amber loves to make her home welcoming and inviting to the children’s friends. When she is home checking on her garden, the kids are playing in the yard and gazebo. Their dog, Onna, and the neighbor’s dog, Spanky, are watching the antics from beneath a shady tree.
The fruit tree has a hammock to rest and eat of its harvest, and the family is even growing their own corn on the cob in the garden to make popcorn this year. When she does have free time, Amber enjoys wood crafting, sewing quilts for her kids, painting and walking in her neighborhood. Her family has lived in Smithfield for 12 years, and her early dreams in France of being a baker have been fulfilled.