Assemble ingredients: South-Central PA Grandma in flowered apron, a farmer’s kitchen with red linoleum and knotty pine cabinets, a radio broadcasting farm market reports in the next room, Pyrex dishes, wooden rolling pin, spoons and spatulas, pie ingredients (flour, shortening, molasses, brown sugar, baking soda, egg, boiling water, cinnamon, nutmeg) a dog-eared recipe in an aluminum box, her crying daughter with three children playing blocks underfoot
Preheat: Turn up the heat to 450 degrees with male generational alcoholism, buried anger of Grandma and daughter graduating at top of their classes, philandering son-in-law, money problems, small-town gossips, a hot, early-fall kitchen
Make a crust: Cut shortening into flour, mixing with capable hands (that raised babies, grew gardens, assisted in operating rooms, taught high school, wrote husband’s graduate thesis, washed diapers in wringer washers, helped neighbors, fed the homeless at the back door, cut apple peals in one long deft strip) until shortening is pea-sized. Scoop into a ball, cover, refrigerate. Roll out dough, pushing out lumps with rolling pin, thin and even in every direction until perfect, like dreams before shattering. Lift without breaking and lay in pie pan with competent fingers. Flute edge, neat and unbroken, like hope that never gives up.
Mix: Molasses, brown sugar, egg, water, soda, and spices in amounts given on tattered recipe card. Recall the pies and kitchens of past years, of mothers and grandmas rolling out pie crusts in times of war, money woes, bad crops, stillborn babies, cheating husbands, wagging tongues, and daddies “sick” from drinking again. Beat ingredients until mixed, as if your life depended on it, smooth and attainable, like a report card full of A’s.
Add a crumb topping: Combine flour and sugar and sprinkle on top. Bake 15 minutes and turn down to 350 degrees. Continue to bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and the house smells of gooey sweetness.
Cool: Place pie by window to cool. Watch children laugh and dance around the kitchen while singing, “Shoo fly, shoo fly, don’t bother me.” See Grandma and daughter smile as they remember themselves shooing away imaginary flies in hot kitchens filled with Pyrex and spoons, unrelenting dreams, and the sweet, sticky molasses joy at the work of their hands and the surpassing love for family.
My recipe notes: file under “Resilience/women”
3 thoughts on “Baking a Shoo Fly Pie in Grandma’s 50s Kitchen by Diane Kendall Stevens”
Very evocative; generations of women making it work; turning out the pies and everything else while “daddy is sick”. Really liked your method/construct of the recipe closing with the filing instructions.
Diane, you hooked me from the first sentence and kept reeling me in until the great ending “Resilience/women,” indeed. I love your structure of writing a recipe, including raw emotion, which makes the emotions seem immediate and authentic! Love your similes. This piece is lingering with me; it’s making me think. Thank you for sharing. I think you should try to publish this in a magazine or journal.