UI alum makes pie personal

Brittany Volk felt the weight of the pandemic in the beginning of 2020, but through her newfound hobby of baking pies, she was able to turn it into a sweet ending.

Caitlin Crome, News Reporter

While working from home in the marketing department for Blue Pearl Veterinary Hospitals, Brittany Volk would sit at her desk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. next to a velvet painting of Kacey Musgraves, her favorite artist, hanging on the wall to her left.

But when the emotional and social tolls of the pandemic began to set in, you could find Volk in her very small kitchen, baking and perfecting her pies to help pass the time and connect with her friends. She would cut out elaborate pie-dough letters to say messages like “Merry Christmas”, weave intricate flowers, and color her dough to create elaborate pies she saw on Pinterest and baking shows.

Now, her colorful Instagram pies have gained attention from news stations and cookbook authors.

After leaving the University of Iowa in 2009, graduating with a Journalism and Arts degree and being a part of the design team at The Daily Iowan for all four years, Volk moved to Naples, Florida where she worked in journalism until 2018.

However, when 2020 rolled around, she said the year was a rough year for her pandemic or no.

“As March and April rolled in, it was all very clear it was quarantine and we were going to have to stay by ourselves… I was alone,” Volk said.

Volk said her overwhelming persona is being an independent woman with great friendships, but her family lived far away.

“I was fine on my own. But then here during a pandemic you cannot be alone. That is not sustainable,” she said. “I did not realize how much that would affect me until this pandemic.”

Starting before the pandemic, Volk and her friends had a cooking club where they would choose a cookbook and make recipes from there for a potluck.

“We did one right in the beginning of the pandemic with the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat from Samin Nosrat and I decided to do a chicken pot pie for that one,” she said.

Volk decided to cut out the letters of the cookbook and put it on the pot pie itself and post it to her Instagram, tagging the cookbook author. She then attracted the attention from the author, who reposted the photo on to her page saying how cool her pie was.

“Here is this really famous woman who just [re-posted] my pie,” she said. “That was really cool – to have 200 likes on Instagram.”

Growing up, Volk always loved baking, but had never liked pie. But after the attention she received from Nosrat, she decided she wanted to make pies for a hobby.

“I started following more women on Instagram who designed pies, I started looking all over Pinterest for more pie designs, and I thought, ‘I could do this, it is not hard, it just takes a lot of time,’” she said.

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Because she was not able to see her friends during the pandemic, Volk said bringing a pie and leaving it on their porch was still a way they could stay connected in person.

Katie Sanders, a friend of Volk’s, wrote in an email that Volk has dropped off many slices of her pie experiments at her house over the past year.

“By far my favorite pie was the personalized blackberry chai that she made for my birthday,” Sanders wrote. “It is a uniquely delicious combination of flavors. It also meant so much that she chose to put that level of time, effort and care into an edible present for me. The crust had a cheery weave and floral pattern with my name in cute letters.”

While Volk has received a lot of encouragement from friends to turn her pie creations into profit, Sanders is proud of the way she is fiercely protecting her hobby as a source of joy, not income.

“She uses pie to elevate anything worthy of celebration, not just birthdays or holidays, breaking the monotony of pandemic life,” Sanders wrote. “I’m happy to see how much acclaim she’s getting for it now. It’s well earned, and I hope it inspires others to pick up something new and stick with it.”

Warren Buchholz, who is Volk’s partner, came into her life after she began taking up baking. However, he wrote in an email that from the time he has met her up until now he has seen considerable growth.

“I am so glad she’s found a hobby that she’s passionate about and finds no need to sell her creations,” he wrote. “It takes talent with what she does, so I’m hoping she continues to thrive in her passion in the future, and I’m willing to assist in any way I can.”

Buchholz met Volk on the dating app Hinge in June 2020. He wrote that he created an account, but haphazardly filled it out with one question which was a “tell me something about yourself,” and all he put was “I like pie.”

“Don’t know why that was all I put or why it was specifically that, but I’m glad I put pie,” he wrote.

Along with the first cookbook author reaching out to Volk, many others have as well. She also said that as her pie baking was becoming more a part of her life at the end of last year, she wrote a story for the Tampa Bay Times about her pie making.

“That gained a lot of comments from people from my past reaching out saying how cool it was, and that is when TV shows started calling me like local television,” Volk said.

When looking into the future, Volk said she does not have the time, money, or kitchen space to make her pie baking a business. But she also wants to keep it a hobby.

“I hope to inspire more people to do things just for them, or just for them and their friends,” she said. “Not everything needs to be a side hustle.”

Volk said this was her way to bring her friends together during the pandemic and for her taking orders from strangers is not how she wants to share pie in the world right now.

“Everybody is trying to come up with a new side hustle and capitalize off the cool things that they are doing and that is great for them, but I think there is still a lot to be said for having a hobby that is for you and I want to keep it that way,” she said. “For me pie right now is personal.”