The frozen-food aisle doesn't seem like a likely place to find asafetida. Ditto for harissa, mustard seed, or habanero chillies. But you'll find them all under the crusts of Blackbird Savory Pies, a local biz that's reimagining that cuddle-up-in-front-of-the-tube comfort food, the frozen potpie.
While frozen chicken potpies may be a good match for chilly winter nights — all that crispy, buttery crust to pick apart obsessively or mash into the chunky, soupy goodness beneath — you don't expect them to be oozing with umami. They're dependable, but a bit boring. But they don't have to be. As Blackbird CEO Matthew Kline puts it, "You can take almost any great recipe and make it better when you put it under a crust."
When the Acton resident and his sister, Sarah E. Kline of Cambridge, decided to develop a frozen-pie company, they wanted to create a complex flavor profile for each recipe, using all-natural ingredients and all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and, yes, umami. In the summer of 2012, they launched five single-serving varieties: the Carolina-style BBQ pork pie, the Italian-style chicken pasta pie, the New England–style chicken pie, the gluten-free Venezuelan-style chicken pie, and the vegetarian and gluten-free Indian ratatouille pie. All are interesting and well balanced, quirky with what-is-that-I-taste profiles that command attention even when you are zoned out on the couch.
The Klines were an unlikely duo to take on the frozen-food business. While Sarah had some background in the professional food world, Matthew was, in his own words, "all over the place," with a degree in philosophy from Johns Hopkins and a career that included stints working as a jazz pianist, teaching high-school math, and running a training company that specialized in the Japanese philosophy of Total Quality Management. But the siblings grew up in a food-obsessed household where "every meal was an occasion, and everything was made from scratch." Sarah had the idea for a pie company. "There are so few good pies on the market, but she wanted to do sweet pies," Matthew explains. "I said, only if I can do savory pies as well." They spent the next two years working on recipes, whittling 50 down to the winning five, writing the business plan, and learning the ins-and-outs of frozen foods. "The gluten-free pie crusts were especially challenging," Matthew says.
Since the summer launch, Blackbird's pies have been picked up by smaller gourmet and specialty stores in the Boston area, including City Feed and Supply, Foodie's Urban Market, Fresh Pond Market, DeLuca's Market, Broadway Marketplace, and Harvest Co-op. And by January, they'll be available at local Whole Foods Markets and Roche Bros. Not bad for a humble pie.