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Cook's Corner

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I still want to learn …
A. How to play the guitar well.
I can’t wait to …
A. Clean the inner loins of the deer my brother just shot. Marinate them in ‘Very Very Teriyaki.’ Sear them on a grill for a few minutes. I tell ya, it’s the filet mignon of the forest.
Diana Parker | The Journal Gazette
Amber Sieber of Allen County enjoys baking items such as apple pie.

Pie-lover learned art of baking from mother

– If Amber Sieber could describe how her cooking skills have grown from the early days, it would be “tremendous.” She’s gone from serving boiled chicken in the oven to her boyfriend (now husband), Kevin, to winning awards at the Allen County 4-H Fair for her canned jams.

“I took two chicken breasts and placed them in a large glass bowl. Submerged them in water and added a squirt of barbecue sauce. It boiled in the oven. The water was all brown,” she says, laughing. “He says now, ‘Honey, you’ve come a long way.’ But I also made stuffed mushrooms and it was so good.”

Sieber, 35, has two daughters, Addie, 12, and Violet, 8, and is a substitute nurse at East Allen County Schools. The family has a three-acre hobby farm in northeast Allen County where they grow heirloom vegetables and raise goats and chickens.

Following her own upbringing, Sieber strives, as she says, to “eat as close to nature as possible.”

“When I prepare a dish, it consists of a healthy meat. It’s one we provided – deer, turkey, chicken and fish. Deer or turkey we’ve shot, chicken we’ve raised and fish we’ve caught,” she says. “I always have a side salad and either rice or a potato dish. Like au gratin potatoes from scratch. We eat a lot of our canned vegetables like corn or beans. Or we roast vegetables with olive oil and salt. And we usually have a dessert I make. We do a lot of baked goods around here.”

Pies are one dessert she loves to bake. Sieber says she learned how to make pies from her mom, Debbie Amstutz, who has taught pie baking to others.

“It was probably rhubarb cream pie,” Sieber says about her first pie. “I was probably 23 or 24.”

Pulling a group of worn sheets of paper, she says, “This was the first print out she made (for) a church cooking class, ‘how to make pies.’ Her first collection of popular pie recipes – you can see it’s used. It’s got wear and tear being on the counter. It’s stained with flours and oils and strawberry pie filling.

Sieber says the pie baking tradition is now being passed on to her daughters who help her make pie crust.

For basics, she uses “The Joy of Cooking” cookbook, as well as another old cookbook, “Our Old Homestead: Generations of Good Cooks – Allen County.”

“This is my treasured one,” Sieber says bringing out a 1 1/2 manila envelope stuffed with recipes.

“It has recipes from my mom, family, friends, books and Internet,” she says.

Asked what advice she would give to beginners, Sieber says, “Oh, there’s so much advice. It takes time to master flavor and be patient. If you don’t like something you’ve made, you can amend the recipe or ditch it.”

Without missing a beat, she goes on, “Learn how to make homemade basics. You need chicken broth, butter, onions and garlic. To thicken use flour or corn starch. Then you can make chicken pot pie and not a frozen one. Use my oil crust recipe for the bottom and top – or for a quiche. Then make a homemade cream base, steam vegetables. Then if you had a chicken in the Crock-Pot, take that meat and shred it up. Add the cream base, vegetables and chicken on the bottom crust, add the top crust, put slits in the top crust. Put in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until it’s golden and bubbly. You could put homemade drop biscuits on top instead of a second crust. Bay leaf is really important in making bases. I use it a lot especially in gravies or chicken pot pie.”

Q. What’s your favorite pie?

A. Rhubarb cream. What else? A pie I made this year was a Concord grape pie. It’s a labor intense you have to skin the grapes and seed it. It doesn’t taste like anything you’ve ever had. It has to be Concord.

Q. Who would you consider as your cooking idol?

A. Oh, my mom. She has a passion for making meals from scratch. Or just friends. If I have something I fell in love with I get the recipe and put it in my folder.

Q. What’s your favorite vegetable?

A. That’s a tough one because I love vegetables. I’d have to say roasted cauliflower is the queen of veggies. I could eat it for breakfast.

Q. What’s something people would not find in your refrigerator?

A. Pop and, umm, margarine. Never! Never!

Q. Do you have a favorite meal?

A. I was raised on squirrel, rabbit, deer and fish. And my favorite childhood meal is creamed squirrel over homemade biscuits. I make it every fall.

Easy Canola Oil Pie Crust

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup canola oil

1/2 cup ice cold water

Stir salt and flour together in a large bowl. Pour oil then water into the flour mixture, stir. Divide into 3 balls. Roll each ball between wax paper with a rolling pin to about 1/8 -inch thick. Take top wax paper off and lay each crust into a 9-inch pie pan. Shape edges. Makes 3 (regular 9-inch) pie crusts. For pre-baking, poke holes in crust and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Can be used for fruit pies, pumpkin pies, pecan pies.

Apple Pie

4 to 6 peeled and sliced apples

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon quick cook tapioca

2 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

In a mixing bowl, combine apples, sugar, tapioca, flour, spices and salt; stir to coat the apples. Then pour mixture into an unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Top with basic crumb topping or the Dutch crumb topping. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted in apples is tender and not firm. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

Shortbread Pie Crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

Mix all ingredients in a 9-inch pie pan and press the crust out with your fingers. Prick with a fork and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool and then fill with your favorite pie filling, such as fresh strawberry, blueberry or raspberry or cream pies like banana or peanut butter. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie crust.

Basic Crumb Topping for Fruit Pies

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup white sugar

6 tablespoons butter

Mix sugar with flour and cut in butter with a pastry blender until crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit pies. If pie browns too quickly, cover top with foil. Makes enough for one pie.

Dutch Crumb Topping for Fruit Pies

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oatmeal

3/4 cup melted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix flour, brown sugar, oatmeal and salt in a bowl. Add melted butter and stir to crumb consistency. Makes enough topping for 3 fruit pies.

Rhubarb Cream Pie

3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb

4 tablespoons flour

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 2/3 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut up

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Nutmeg, ground, as desired

Clean rhubarb and cut into small pieces. Place rhubarb into 9–inch deep dish unbaked pie crust. In a mixing bowl hand mix the eggs; add milk and vanilla. Mix flour and sugar together in a separate bowl, then add to egg mixture and stir. Pour over rhubarb and top with butter. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until center is set. Cool before cutting. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

Fresh Strawberry Pie

1 heaping quart of fresh strawberries

1 cup water

1 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons light Karo syrup

3 tablespoons corn starch

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons strawberry gelatin powder

1 shortbread pie crust (see recipe above)

Wash, dry and pare strawberries. In a medium saucepan, combine water, sugar, Karo syrup, cornstarch and salt. Over medium high heat cook until bubbly, thick and clear. Remove from heat. While hot add gelatin powder. Cool the filling. Add strawberries to filling and then place into baked shortbread pie crust. Put into refrigerator and let cool before cutting. Serve with whip cream. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

Tart Cherry Pie

4 cups tart red cherries

2 1/2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca

1 1/4 cups white sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Prepare pastry crust for a two crust pie. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss cherries in a large bowl with the tapioca, sugar, lemon juice and almond extract. Let filling set and marinate for 10 minutes. Pour into unbaked pie crust, then dot with the butter, top with pastry crust or crumb topping. If using crust, seal edges and cut 5 to 6 slits on the top of the crust with a knife. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake 40 more minutes or until golden on top (if getting to brown, lay foil on top and around edges) and bubbly. Let cool, serve with whip cream or vanilla ice cream. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

Fresh Peach Pie

5 cups of fresh peaches

3 tablespoons flour

2 to 3 drops of almond extract

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 to 1 cup of white sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons butter cut up

Select fresh ripe peaches. Dip in boiling water for about 10 to 15 seconds, and then dip into cold water. Skins should easily peel off. Slice in half, take out seed and slice remainder. In a mixing bowl, combine sliced peaches, almond extract, sugar, flour and spices. Mix to coat. Pour mixture into unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Top with dots of butter. Top with pie crust and seal edges or with basic crumb topping. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden on top and bubbling. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

Pecan Pie

1 stick butter

1 cup pecans

3 eggs

1 cup light Karo syrup

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt and slightly brown the butter in saucepan over medium heat; remove from heat. Lay pecans in bottom of unbaked 9-inch pie crust. In a mixing bowl, combine butter, eggs, Karo syrup, sugar and vanilla and stir. Pour mixture over pecans. Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 325 and bake an additional 40 minutes. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-88; fax 461-8648 or email