BETTENDORF, Iowa — With Thanksgiving just days away, it's the busiest time of the year for one Bettendorf baker.
Juli Hurley owns Out on a Limb Pie Company. She opened just two years ago, just before Thanksgiving in 2019. During that first year she sold 73 pies, increasing to 323 in 2020.
This week she and her staff are baking approximately 575 pies, all pre-ordered.
"It blows my mind, really, I didn't anticipate it growing that rapidly for Thanksgiving," Hurley said. "A lot of baking, a lot of hours put in."
For Thanksgiving Out on a Limb Pie Company sells pumpkin, pecan, cherry, apple and blueberry. They used a total of 500 pounds of apples to make all the apple pies.
"You can't beat the smell of the kitchen that's for one thing," Hurley said. "Honestly, the colors and the textures, it's a feast not only for our taste buds, but it is for the eyes as well. I just find parts of it very therapeutic. Parts of it are a little hard work, but I think when you see the whole thing put together, it's a very gratifying feeling."
On her apple and cherry pies, she opts to use a crumb topping instead of a pie crust.
"It gives a nice texture," she said. "It gives a little bit of a crunch after it's done baking without it being heavy, crispy, and it's a little sweeter I think than a crust too."
Baking has been a long-time hobby for Hurley. She grew up learning from her parents, her grandma and her aunt.
"Everything that came out of their kitchen was delicious," she said. "So when I would go over to their house, I would hang out in the kitchen with them and help and ask questions and sometimes I got dish duty, you know, but that's all part of it. But just being there in the kitchen just gave me a lot of exposure to it."
Hurley also took cooking and home economic classes in junior high and high school. In high school, she even won a pie baking contest.
"That just kind of set me on the course," she said. "I just found I had an easy knack for it."
She started out baking pies for her co-workers and then expanded to selling them to friends and family.
Hurley first thought about opening her own bakery nearly two decades ago, but said the timing just wasn't right. Her dad helped come up with the bakery name, a play on the risk she took.
"How about 'Out on a Limb' because we're going out there and trying it out," Hurley said. "Obviously a lot of our fruit comes from trees too."
Baking the pies can sometimes be trial and error. Hurley said she's had entire trays ruined. Her pie crust recipe is a tweaked version from an old church cookbook she grew up with, and the apple pie recipe is one she's been using for 25 years. However, for the most part, a lot of the recipes she finds by reading good reviews and then makes changes as she goes.
"When you go from having just one pie baking in your home oven, going to have 12 to 15 pies in a commercial oven, it's a big difference," Hurley said. "You have to make lots of adjustments and it just takes time to figure out what works best."
Even though she's making the pies in her shared rental kitchen in Bettendorf, it's a little bit of home that Hurley is bringing to her customer's Thanksgiving tables.
"Not that there's anything wrong with getting a pie from the store, but for homemade, you know, it's kind of like it reminds them of grandma or growing up," she said. "I had a story of one lady I know who cried actually when she tasted our pumpkin pie, because she had just lost her mother that year and said that my pumpkin pie tasted exactly like how her mother's had been. It's very touching."
Right now she sells her pies at the Freight House Farmers Market, or they can be ordered online and picked up at her kitchen at 806 40th Ave in Bettendorf. Opening her own storefront bakery isn't in the cards yet, but Hurley isn't closing the door on the idea.
"For right now, I think we're just trying to get other outlets to get our pies out there in more places where people can have easy access to them around. So that's my first goal. I would like to have my own location," Hurley said. "Maybe down the road we might have enough of a demand for that where we'll find ourselves doing that after all."
It is too late to order any Thanksgiving pies from Out on a Limb Pie Company, but Hurley and her team do bake and take orders year round online. They're also expanding to dinner pies, such as chicken pot pie and beef and mushroom pie.