Molly Johnson bakes pies. Serious pies, both sweet and savory. Bite into the personal-sized, flaky-crusted apple-cranberry variety, or a chicken curry with crimini mushroom, and you’ll be smiling for the next half hour.
During warm weather, you’ll find Johnson or her assistant parked on State Street at the Kennett Square Farmer’s Market on Friday afternoons, dispensing fresh inventory baked earlier in the day from her Nomadic Pies food truck.
Johnson’s isn’t the only food truck roaming the Chester County countryside on these warm summer days. Once considered the province of factory parking lots and big-city street corners, local food trucks are becoming part of the scene at farmers’ markets, special events, festivals and local wineries. In short, food trucks have blended the best attributes of the catering business with fast-food service and taken their shows on the road.
On any given summer week, Nomadic Pies may be parked at the farmers’ market in Kennett Square or Phoenixville; the Hood’s BBQ van could be making an appearance at Galer Winery; and the Italian Scallion food truck might be rolling into the open field outside of Kreutz Creek Winery as a local band is tuning up for a Saturday-night concert.
“I wanted to be a little more gourmet than the normal construction-site truck,” says chef Michael Maltese of his Italian Scallion catering business.
On a warm Saturday evening on the rolling hillside field at Kreutz Creek, he connects an electricity line to his truck and checks out the steam table in the rear section. Nearby, the band Red Alert is waking up the sound system as concert-goers position their folding chairs and take trips to the wine concession.
“I hope he has his mac and cheese,” one woman says, looking in Maltese’s direction.
He doesn’t. But he does have pulled-pork barbecue, chicken salad, loaded baked potatoes, and grilled hot dogs at prices ranging from $4 to $7, plus an array of chips and other snack foods. While some food trucks have the chef working inside and dispensing food through a side window, Maltese’s white GMC with blue top opens on the sides and back to display food and provide access to refrigerated compartments and a steam table.
[pullquote]”I wanted to take my food to where the people are.”[/pullquote]
Maltese got tired of being a chef in a restaurant, starting his own catering and food-truck business in 2011. “Whether through catering or the food truck, I wanted to take my food to where the people are,” he says.
In a small storefront bakery in Parkesburg, its doors closed to the public, Johnson is busy on a Thursday morning preparing pie crusts and fillings for her upcoming Friday at the market in Kennett Square. “I’ll be in here at 4:30 baking pies,” she says, as she mixes her secret blend of pie dough.
Johnson is dressed in a blue-and-red print skirt and a T-shirt that reads, “Eat More Pie.” “I bake everything fresh the day of market,” she says, breaking into a smile.
At a nearby table, an assistant chops large cuts of cooked beef into bite-size chucks, while a dozen chicken breasts await in the oven. Large containers of diced red potatoes and carrots are covered in plastic on another table. They’ll go into chicken curry pies with mushrooms and apples, as well as the steak, mushroom, onion and gruyere variety.
“I make about 500 crusts a week for pies and quiches,” Johnson says, “and I’ll sell about 150 to 200 pies each at the two farmers’ markets we attend.”
She still grows fresh tomatoes for her dishes. In her first year, 2012, she also raised other vegetables and her own chickens on a nearby family farm. Johnson grew up in Delaware County and studied political science at Queens College in Kingston, Ontario (her dad is Canadian). Her pie making, she says, is largely self-taught.
The reason Johnson got into the food-truck business is simple: “The overhead is low, and you can drive where the people are.”
“I plan to open a storefront in Kennett this spring,” she adds. “That will allow me to expand the food-truck business to other markets, perhaps even in Delaware.
“I’m not sure what I’ll call the storefront, as that part won’t be ‘nomadic.’”
From Chef Michael Maltese
Yield: 15-20 sandwiches
5 lbs. chicken breasts and tenderloins
3 ribs chopped celery
1 tbsp. chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
2 cups mayonnaise
1 quart marinade
For the marinade, mix …
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups olive oil
12 cloves minced garlic
4 tbsps. parsley flakes
4 tbsps. dried basil
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. salt
1. Cut chicken into half-inch-thick fillets, then marinate under refrigeration for 6 hours.
2. Bake chicken at 375 degrees, 15 minutes each side.
3. Chop chicken after cooling and add celery, onion, salt and white pepper. Blend in mayonnaise to give the chicken a moist, smooth consistency.
From Chef Molly Johnson
5 cups pitted sour cherries
4 tbsps. corn starch
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 9-inch pie crust (“I can’t give away all of my secrets!”)
For the crumb topping, mix …
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light-brown sugar
3/4 cup melted, unsalted butter
1. Mix cherries, starch, sugar and almond extract, and pour into pie crust.
2. Sprinkle crumb topping over filling.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.