Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Pie Lady: Jean Flynn’s pop-up pie stand pays vintage shops a visit

Hagadone News Network | March 20, 2024 12:00 AM

A sandwich board on Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls boldly announces “PIE HERE NOW,” but is softened by a picture of a smiling blond girl holding a bushel of wheat.

The Prairie Girl herself sets up a blue checkered tablecloth covered in handmade pies inside Monaco Furniture and Accessories. Jean Flynn, Columbia Falls’s Pie Lady, is all smiles as she waits for customers to fill the vintage shop for her pop-up pie stand. With the smell of pie, warm glow of window light and lamps, chatter of customers drifting in and out, and textiles and art on every surface, the place is a sensory retreat. 

“It’s kind of an adventure,” Flynn said as she offered her cinnamon-twist experiment for free to customers. 

This is not the first time Flynn has taken her pies on the road. Raised on a wheat farm north of Chester, Montana, she grew up learning to bake from her mother. She was always decorating the chicken coop and found fascination in 4-H place settings, sewing and baking. 

At 19, she left home to explore. She stayed at the Grand Canyon for a while, then moved to Seattle where she was a part of the theater scene — married to an actor-director, twirling baton and playing trumpet. Flynn took her grandmother and mother’s pie recipe, one made with lard, egg and vinegar, and made two pies a day when she opened her rockabilly coffee shop on Western Avenue in Seattle. Customers always said the place looked like a movie set, and it seems Flynn took that as a challenge.

She took off for Hollywood and worked on movie sets for three years. The Muppets and A Bugs Life saw her artistic touch. After that, she left Pixar to start her own interior design business in Berkley, which was massively successful. When she moved to Los Angeles, it seemed she was always the one showing up to the party with a pie. 

Montana remained on her mind. 

“I think I’m going to move up there and open a pie shop,” she remembered telling a friend in L.A. She found five acres of land in the Flathead Valley — Prairie Girl Farms. 

Flynn opened her interior design studio on Sixth Street West in Columbia Falls and flew back and forth to Berkley every two months during her first 10 years in Columbia Falls to serve her clients. But pie was always on the back burner. 

In 2022, Flynn started her own Sunday Markets in front of her shop. Music, food, local farmers. She has also sold pies in Columbia Falls Community Market throughout the years. 

Now, Flynn has partnered with local vintage stores to peddle her wares. A self-proclaimed “gleaner,” Flynn takes pride in thrifting herself — usually the stuff left to hang on the vine a little longer is tastier, she explained. Vintage shops seemed like a good place for her to hang out, and her shop-owner friends agreed. 

On this particular Sunday, mixed berry, apple, huckleberry and cherry pies, chocolate peanut butter tacos, huckleberry, apricot, walnut, honey and cherry thin pastries, shortbreads in the shape of blue birds and Montana were on the menu. But in the past, Flynn has experimented with everything from strawberry rhubarb slushies to scones made with lavender-soaked cream. 

She takes pride in her all-butter pie crust. 

Flynn’s recipes are from everywhere she has been. Her daughter sends her TikToks with recipe ideas, her restaurateur friends in California have suggestions, and even as she sat at her booth on Sunday, she talked to customers about their family recipes. 

A collection of old church cookbooks printed with blue mimeographs also feeds her imagination. When she visits the east side where she grew up, she sits with her childhood babysitter Annette in a pair of old rocking chairs, reading cookbooks aloud to each other. 

It seems almost restrictive to call Flynn the Pie Lady, as she dabbles in everything: watercolor, fashion, poetry. 

“When I was younger I always had a fantasy that when I was an old lady I would have a loom and be a weaver, but I don’t know if I could sit still long enough yet,” Flynn said. “As I get older I just want to be the pie lady and do artsy stuff all the time.”

It is obvious, however, that there is one thing she creates consistently: community. Every stranger that passed through Monaco left a friend as she asked them their names, where they’re from, where they’re going. 

“I think I actually have a profound urge to cook food and feed people, so it goes beyond pies for me, but this is my medium,” Flynn said. 

Flynn’s pop-up pies will bounce around Columbia Falls’s vintage shops, so look out for that sandwich board sign. Or, check out her Instagram @prairie_girl_pies for details on where she’ll be next. 


    A selection of Jean Flynn’s “Cutie Pies." (Avery Howe photo)
    Jean Flynn and her pop-up pie booth in Monaco Furniture and Accessories on Nucleus Avenue on Sunday, March 3. (Avery Howe photo)