The Fall Pie Supper Custom

October 4, 2014

by Crane-Station
cross posted at Firedoglake

Letty Owings, age 89, recalls the annual fall pie supper auction in a small Missouri farming community during the Great Depression.

The Fall Pie Supper Custom

Each autumn we had a pie supper at Cabbage Neck, the one-room school that served as our community center. The idea was that a woman, or usually a girl baked a pie, and the pies were auctioned off to men. When you live in a world where you are isolated, social functions are a big deal. Women did their darndest to outshine the other women for the pie supper, so the event was a contest as well as a fundraiser. The big deal was who was going to buy the pie.

The auction was held on the school ‘stage,’ which was a space where the teacher’s desk was pushed aside. The auctioneer, who was sometimes my father, would hold up the pie and chant, “Now what am I to give for this pie, ten cents who’ll give me ten cents, ten, and raise it to fifteen, ah fifteen and twenty, twenty cents over here and thirty thirty do I hear forty…” A girl would want a good price for her pie, and she may say, “My, they paid seventy-five cents for my pie!” Many of the pies were milk-based custards because mince was expensive. Pumpkin, squash and apple pies were popular, and on occasion when someone could afford raisins, there was raisin pie. If there was mince, the pie had a crust over the top, and often had green tomatoes, apples, and spices.

The rule was that the man who bought the pie shared the pie with the girl who baked it. The quality of the pie didn’t have much to do with the price of eggs, it was the gathering and the fun that mattered. People would discuss the drought and talk about their kids, and interject with who bought what pie for how much by saying things like, “Yeah, you know, he bought her pie.” The inevitable big ‘disappointment’ that would bring a good deal of ribbing and laughter would come when a fella would shell out a few coins for a pie, expecting that a girl had baked it, only to learn that he would be sharing the pie with grandma.

Nobody ever kept any of the money for the pies. The funds went into the school. One year the funds went to purchase a dictionary. Another year, the funds were used to purchase coal.

It is hard to explain the hype of the pie supper to people today, in a world where so much is going on. People gossiped about it for months. Women were jealous of each other. If your pie didn’t bring very much, it was like insulting the Holy Grail. The pie supper was one of the rites of passage of fall. My mother made pumpkin pies, but she never wrote down the recipe, so how did she make them?

Well, for one thing, grow the pumpkins. They can’t be too big. They can’t be too stringy. They have to be watered just right. Next, the milk has to come out of the cow. Set it on the stove for a while and let it clabber a little, to give it some taste. Set a crock on the back of the heating stove, and the cream will rise. Skim that off. You don’t want your pie too slick, or too rich. The only things purchased for the pie is the flour, and the spices. If you get too much cream, the pie will be too damn rich, but if you get too little, the pie will be too watery. Maybe two cups of cream will do, with two cups of pumpkin.

Depending on how the argument works out on any given day, the pie might require three or four eggs, and they might be separated or not, but you have to grab the eggs out from underneath the chickens. When eggs are this fresh- grabbed from under a hen- they are hard to separate- so you may have to wait a day or two, to separate the white from the yolk.

No one pulled a recipe book or a recipe card from the shelf to follow, to bake her pie, for the annual pie supper event each year. Pie making was an art and a creative endeavor that passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Read the rest of this entry »


The Blue Taffeta Dress

May 25, 2014

by Crane-Station

Alice Heun: The Corn Crib, 1934
Alice Heun: The Corn Crib, 1934 photo by Smithsonian American Art Museum/flickr

note: I don’t have any money, but listening to this guy makes me want to find some. Check this out, great way to raise money BTW:

This is a story from the Great Depression as told by Letty Owings, age 89. It is a true account of three organized community activities in a small rural farming community in Missouri during the 1930s.

The Blue Taffeta Dress

While we worked hard on the farm during the drought years in the mid-1930s, we also set aside three days each year for entertainment. These days were community organized and structured fun that everyone looked forward to and talked about all year.

Each autumn we had a pie supper at the rural school that served as our community center. The idea was that a woman, or usually a girl baked a pie, and the pies were auctioned off. The auctioneer, who was sometimes my father, would hold up the pie and chant, “Now what am I to give for this pie, ten cents who’ll give me ten cents, ten, and raise it to fifteen, ah fifteen and twenty, twenty cents over here and thirty thirty do I hear forty…” A girl would want a good price for her pie, and she may say, “My, they paid a dollar for my pie!” Many of the pies were milk-based custards because mince was too expensive. Pumpkin, squash and apple pies were popular, and on occasion when someone could afford raisins, there was raisin pie.

The rule was that the man who bought the pie shared the pie with the girl who baked it. The quality of the pie didn’t have much to do with the price of eggs, it was the gathering and the fun that mattered. The people would gossip about the drought and gossip about their kids, and interject with who bought what pie for how much by saying things like, “Yeah, you know, he bought her pie.” Nobody ever kept any of the money for the pies. The funds went into the school.

On the last day of school, every woman in the community brought something to eat to the annual basket dinner at school. Women took a great deal of pride in what they brought, whether it was pickles, beans, apple butter or other dishes, so the basket dinner was both contest and entertainment. The women put the food out on the ground for all to enjoy, and we ate on the ground. Some of the coal miner kids were too poor to bring food, but the country people were very generous, so the kids all got to eat.

There was no separation of church and state back in those days, so the next big event, the Christmas program, was held either at the school or at the church, and everyone started planning for it in October. We had an old piano with missing keys and back then no one looked askance that we sang religious songs and Christmas carols. The kids gave speeches and participated in plays that were read from a Depression-era book with scripts. The dialogue was humorous or it delivered some sort of a lesson, but it was all copied, sometimes from Charles Dickens and often from other sources. The names of some of the plays were: Mr. Dash Goes Shopping, Tramp at the Picnic, Change of Heart, and Too Much Spending, but there were others.

I often had a part in the Christmas play, but I never had any decent clothes until 1932 when my Grandpa went blind. My dad took him to California on a train because it was better for my grandfather to be with kinfolks in California who had a little more money. My dad returned with two avocados. We had never seen an avocado and did not quite know what to do with them, so my mother cut them into pieces and put them in the flour bin. We would get a piece, shake the flour off and cut it into bites. My cousin in California with money gave my dad a blue taffeta dress for me, and this put me in a world of my own. It had a lace collar and lace cuffs and nobody that I knew ever had a blue taffeta dress with a lace collar and lace cuffs. My cousin did stage dancing, so she had plenty of access to nice clothes.

I decided to wear the dress for my part in the Christmas play.

The play said that I had to have chewing gum, so I got a stick of chewing gum, but I did not know what to do with chewing gum, so I rolled it on my fingers. The gum got stuck on the blue taffeta dress. I was frantic and nearly forgot my lines, the dress was not washable and I did not want my mother to know, but I had to tell her. My mother figured out that if we put ice on the dress it would freeze the gum so that I could pull it off. So, I am in the back yard with the blue dress in the snow because we did not have any ice to put on the dress.

I wore that blue taffeta dress until I could no longer squeeze myself into it, and years later, I visited my cousin in a nursing home, and told her how much that blue dress meant to me.


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