Friday, March 28, 2014

Mom's Pies, The Great Depression, and Rationing

I'm sure you've heard others praise their mother's pies.  They talk about the perfection of the filling -- just enough sugar, a perfect combination of spices, not runny but not dry; and the crust - tender, flaky, melt-in-your mouth.  Perhaps your mother was one of those ladies who baked perfect pies.  But my mother was not.  Her pie fillings were generally good; but the crusts were another story completely.  The crusts were tough, sometimes cut-with-a-knife tough, sometimes almost cardboard tough.  (Forgive me, Mom, if this truth hurts your feelings.)  If I could manage it under the watchful eye of my mother, I ate the filling and left the crust on my plate. 

I knew my mom didn't learn to bake pies from her mom, my grandmother, because my grandmother's pies were perfection.  Everything about her pies was perfect.  They were delectable with just enough thickening to keep the filling from being runny; not too sweet, not at all sour but tart when necessary.  And her crusts truly did melt in our mouths.  I thought perhaps my grandmother had tried to teach my mom to bake pies but my mom just didn't have the touch. 

Imagine my surprise when I saw a 4-H blue ribbon among my mother's things.  She never once mentioned having been in 4-H.  Imagine my even greater surprise when I discovered the ribbon was for a pie she'd baked!  A blue ribbon for a pie my mom baked?!  Maybe the blue ribbon pie was a fluke.

I mulled over that pie and blue ribbon for a while.  It gradually began to make sense.

My mother was a child of the depression.  She turned 14 just a few months before that awful Black Friday in October, 1929.  Everything must have changed for her and her family after that.  Plentiful was probably no longer a word in their vocabulary nor a description of food in their larder.  What food they had was probably not used for such treats as delectable pies.  Surely the blue ribbon had been won the year before.

Having been a child of the Great Depression, she became a mother during that same Depression, then during the rationing of World War II.  What her mother may have been able to obtain during the Depression could have been beyond my mother's reach during the time rationing was enforced. 

During those difficult years, my mother seemed to have adopted an that she carried throughout the rest of her life:  an attitude of  "make do or do without," an attitude of scrimping and saving (of food as well as all other necessities) for some future possible need.  An attitude that a pie is still edible even if the crust is tough.  Several pies with less shortening could mean a cake or cookies later or shortening for some other purpose.  After all, having lived through the depression, World War II, and rationing, one could never tell what the future might bring and what would be needed to survive through it.  

As a descendant it's easy to take things at face value or to assume I understand situations based on my own experiences.  But the times in which my ancestors lived is very different from the time in which I live.  I keep learning, in new ways for each ancestor, that things aren't always as they appear.  There may be more to the story than meets the eye. 



  1. People who keep advising family historians to incorporate social history into stories should point to this blog as a model of "how to." Nancy, this story is absolutely perfect in every way - an artifact, a photo, a memory. Then your understanding of how the times could explain the unexplainable enriches the story and inspires me to be more thoughtful about my family stories.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments, Wendy. I really appreciate them.

  2. I agree - this is a wonderful and thoughtful look at how history may well have shaped something as seemingly simple as your mother's recipe for pie crust. (On a side note, pie-baking has remained a big part of 4-H in my home county in Iowa. I baked many a pie for fair! Love that you found your mother's vintage blue ribbon.)

    1. Thank you, Melanie. I never participated in 4-H even though we lived in a small community where there were probably 4-H groups nearby. From what I know it's a great organization.

  3. Good insight! Sometimes things are not as they seem on the surface.

    1. Thanks, Brenna. I think it's good to look beyond appearances, especially in family history. It's really easy to assume when we only have part of the story.


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