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Mini pie maker has major following in southern Minnesota

NORTH MANKATO, Minn. — Minnie Jackson and her homemade mini pies have quite the loyal following at the North Mankato Farmers’ Market, and yes, that’s her real first name.

The aptly named businesswoman started Palette Mini Pies in retirement about four years ago.

It’s a hobby, she said, along with an outlet for her passion for baking.

“I’d rather be in the kitchen baking than doing anything else,” she said Monday at the market.

Now a fixture at North Mankato’s Farmers’ Market, she remembers feeling unsure if people would go for her mini pies when she first started selling them. Full-size pies are more familiar to people, but she likes how individuals can enjoy her mini pies without worrying about any going to waste.

“Single people or people that live alone don’t have to buy a whole great big 8- or 9-inch pie,” she said. “It might go bad or they’ll have to freeze part of it, and it’s not quite as good after a while.”

After retiring from Navitor in 2014, she took time to get her small business going. Her adult son and daughter encouraged her to keep going when she wasn’t sure, like the time the state’s manual arrived on what she needed to do to legally start a small business, the Mankato Free Press reported.

She completed all the steps, then got to baking. She went to thrift stores to find different size pot lids for cutting out her pies — lids from 3 to 7 inches proved useful.

In using fresh ingredients, she’s continuing her mom’s baking legacy. A longtime Minnesota and Mankato-area resident, she grew up in Tennessee watching her mother bake from scratch — coconut cake was Jackson’s favorite.

“She couldn’t afford to buy cake mixes, and the scratch cakes were so much better anyhow,” Jackson said of her mom’s baking skills.

Once Jackson started selling her baked goods in North Mankato, positive responses quickly followed. People who loved pie but lived by themselves were among her earliest admirers.

“It was comments like that that really kept me going and moving forward, plus my adult children kept encouraging me,” she said.

A mother and daughter were coming to her booth just about every week. The mother enjoyed and regularly bought Jackson’s pies. The daughter loved pies too but couldn’t eat any because they weren’t gluten-free and vegan.

When Jackson heard about it, she and the daughter, Jenny Hoffman, got to talking about what ingredients she could substitute to provide gluten-free and vegan options. Jackson turned to Hy-Vee’s health market for vegan butter and other products.

The next time Jenny and her mother, Mallory, came by the booth, Jackson had gluten-free and vegan pies at the ready along with her usual baked goods. The mother and daughter have both been customers ever since, raving about Jackson and her mini pies.

Vegan, gluten-free homemade baked goods aren’t the easiest to come by, Jenny Hoffman said. It also takes trust for someone susceptible to certain products to feel like what they’re eating won’t cause problems.

“I could have other homemade food and not feel that confident, but because I feel that confident and it tastes fantastic, it’s an amazing experience,” she said.

To the Hoffmans, Jackson’s crusts and fresh fruit set her mini pies apart. They don’t often leave the market without three to four of the mini pies in hand.

Mallory described Jackson as a kind businesswoman who puts love into her baked goods. She said she enjoys visiting each week with both Jackson and her husband, Tom, who sits nearby reading a book in the shade of a tree.

“They’re a lovely couple, they really are,” Mallory said.

Jenny loves Jackson’s blueberry pies, even coming to her to make a full-size one for her birthday. Lately, Jackson said, pecan is the biggest seller. Cherry and peach are close.

As for what gives her the most joy as a businesswoman, Jackson cited the connections she makes with her customers. Most of it is in person at the market, but she also shares her latest creations in both baking and art on her Instagram — a way for customers to reach her over the winter.

“That’s probably the most rewarding thing, to know that people enjoy your product,” she said.

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