This Saturday, after four years of sharing the message that pie is a perfect food tradition for Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in other people’s churches, I get to celebrate with a Peace Through Pie social and my home congregation. I am thrilled that Round Rock has joined more than two dozen local organizations and schools in Central Texas, and a growing list of PTP hosts nationwide, but it is going to be a very full day.
It all starts with the Women and Food Symposium at the University of Texas – Austin’s Food Lab, where I am on program with several noted women, including award-winning writer and author Laura Shapiro and New York Times writer Kim Severson. Then, I will introduce Peace Through Pie, which is re-kindling the pie social to spark social change, to marchers in the 27th Annual MLK walk and program in Round Rock, Texas. (The march begins at 1:30 at C D Fulkes Middle School and ends at the Allen R. Baca Senior Center.)
The celebration at Faith4Life Church wraps up my evening with music, a pie baking contest, and a recitation to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Pastor Evan Black and his wife Minister Priscilla invited the congregation and neighbors to come together to share sweet and savory world pies to honor Dr. King’s message of unity and “beloved community,” because Pastor Black says, “Community and diversity are my passions.”
Pastor Black was immediately drawn to the idea of mixing food, fellowship and fence-mending. The husband and father of two bi-racial sons grew up in Atlanta in a family dedicated to equality, diversity, and racial reconciliation. Although his grandfather once refused to allow his mother to attend integrated schools, she stood up for her beliefs, joined the Direct Action campaign, and marched with Dr. King, making diversity “important to me,” Pastor Black explains.
“I really want this to be an event that is open to the community. We are a church, but we want to work with, embrace, and help the community. We want to be part in any way we can. Heaven is not going to be all white or all African American or all Hispanic. It’s going to be a mixed; that’s the way the congregation should be.”
With all of this — plus tastebuds that are still sticky from the sweetness of traditional holiday pies like pumpkin, sweet potato and pecan — I needed a simple pie recipe that would go together fast, but taste deliciously different. I turned to “the ladies” of The Jemima Code, of course, and settled on a book that seemed particularly appropriate for the occasion: Colorful Louisiana Cooking in Black and White.
In a hilarious take the authors, Ethel Dixon and Bibby Tate, attempt to resolve for modern audiences the persistent confusion between southern and soul food by putting the letter “W” next to the recipe title for dishes cooked the way white folks do it and a “B” to show how we roll. Interestingly, some clear distinctions were noticeable, such as the addition of water in the “white” version of a recipe and milk on the “black” ingredients list. This book was a joy to read, but I like my friend and cookbook author Nancie McDermott’s solution better.
She ignored it.
Each little narrative in her cookbook, Southern Pies, shares folklore or teaches pie-making techniques. Nancie also attributes the recipes to their source, many of whom are Jemima Code authors, including Minnie C. Fox and her Blue Grass Cook Book, which I brought back to life in 2005. Nancie’s work does not depend upon labels. She offers no categories or stereotypes. The habit of marginalizing the contributions of African Americans simply does not exist here. This is a great collection of diverse recipes that span the southern pie pantheon giving credit where credit is due — without racial borders.
Butterscotch Pie, for example can be traced to the earliest cookbooks by both African American and white cookbook writers, sometimes called Caramel Pie or Brown Sugar Pie. In her 1948 cookbook, A Date With A Dish, Freda DeKnight cooks brown sugar, butter, and eggs with milk and a bit of flour before baking for a light and moderately sweet dessert with a hint of butterscotch flavor. Patty Pinner updates the formula in Sweetie Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie, offering two versions. One follows DeKnight’s lead, making butterscotch from scratch. The other one cuts preparation time and effort by eliminating the milk, stirring the ingredients together, then finishing the pie in the oven, taking its carmel notes from butterscotch chips.
With so many choices, I’m still uncertain which one I will share this weekend to honor the birthday of Dr. King. What kind of pie will you bake?
Faith4Life church is located at 1000 McNeil Rd. Round Rock, Texas, 78681. For a complete listing of Peace Through Pie socials visit: peacethroughpie.org
In Her Kitchen
Patty Walker’s Easy Nut and Chips Pie
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup butterscotch chips
- One (9-inch) unbaked pie crust
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl and beat until blended well with an electric mixer. Stir in the pecans, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips. Pour the filling into the pie crust. Place in the oven and bake until the crust turns golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving. You can dress up each slice with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.
Recipe from Patty Pinner’s Sweetie Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie.
In Her Kitchen
Yesterday morning, just before we went on the air to invite everyone, everywhere to honor the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday by serving “Peace Pie,” my friend and partner Luanne Stovall revealed to the staff and guests at KAZI radio in Northeast Austin the warm, golden-brown, homemade apple pie she had tucked inside a shallow Steve Madden shoe box. Mouths were watering. By the end of our time with Dora Robinson on the Soul Vibrations show, eyes were watering, too.
Our movement to establish a food tradition that honors the legacy of Dr. King and his passion to build the “Beloved Community” unifies in greater ways than other holiday food traditions like Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas cookies, Valentine chocolates and Easter ham. And, it has begun catching on in cities across the nation — from Austin, New York, Chicago, Houston, and Cleveland, to Seattle and Utah.
Maybe it is because Peace Through Pie socials are inspired by the Jemima Code women who for generations brought people together at the table to solve problems, salve wounds, and uplift communities. From their pulpits at the kitchen table, African-American women practiced servant leadership. As agents of reconciliation, they quietly and subtly brought people of diverse backgrounds together at the table in southern homes and restaurants to enjoy their good cooking. But unlike the fictional women of the bestselling book and film “The Help,” who served poop-laced pie with the intent to harm, Jemima Code women baked and served pies filled with love. These role models encourage Americans to serve pie with the intention of cultivating peace and harmony at the table by making room for all and respecting every voice.
Cookbook author, caterer and community servant Bessie Munson is one of those remarkable women. Munson was raised on her grandparents’ farm near Bartlett, Texas, where the food was always plentiful and sumptuous, she says in her 1978 cookbook, Bless the Cook. She taught cooking classes in Arlington and wrote fondly of the memory of festive and wonderful gatherings around the family table… and of all the “bountiful and beautiful meals that became the reflection of a happy outgoing lifestyle in which anything can be achieved when you share and reach out to others.” In her book, she illustrates the proper way to crimp pie crust to make the edges beautiful, along with several pie recipes, including one for perfect crust.
Why reach out with pie? For three reasons: You don’t have to be a great cook or spend all day in the kitchen preparing an entire meal; Pie is universal, symbolizing inclusiveness with its round shape and diverse ingredients — whether sweet or savory, sugar-free, or gluten-free. It comes in many shapes and sizes from around the world — Latin empanadas, Indian samosas, Italian calzones and pizza pies, Jamaican and Ethiopian meat pies, British and Aussie pies, Greek spinach pie, even Asian dumplings. Finally, “Peace Pie” provides nourishment for heart and soul, creating Beloved Community and enacting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s message of hope, equality and social justice with a food he reportedly really enjoyed (simple recipes are everywhere on the web and on the back of the bottle of Karo Syrup).
On Jan. 18, 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5431 establishing the first MLK Day, he encouraged “…all Americans of every race and creed and color to work together to build in this blessed land a shining city of brotherhood, justice, and harmony. This is the monument Dr. King would have wanted most of all.”
As I left the station, I reflected on the conversation about Peace Through Pie and the multiple ways that sharing a piece of fresh-baked Peace Pie with a family member, friend or neighbor is an enduring recipe for an edible monument. It reminds us year after year to follow Munson’s lead by reaching out to others. This weekend, as you put down social and political weapons and break down generational, race and gender differences to honor Dr. King, why not gather the ingredients for your own edible monument, craft them with your heart and hands, and share with a friend.
To learn more about hosting a Peace Through Pie social or to see a listing of Peace Through Pie Socials in your community, visit www.peacethroughpie.org.
Pauline Brown wasn’t the kind of woman to let segregation bring her down. “I have my share of memories, some of them exciting, some of them scary, but I still love every moment and I will fight for Clarksville until the day I die. This is my area; our home.”
In a somber voice that mobilizes with gripping tales of growing up black in a segregated quarter of Austin, without street lights or indoor plumbing, she reflects on the importance of preserving community. In another interview, the topic turns light-hearted. “I made the richest lemon pie in Clarksville or anyplace else.” Virtually every story she told bewitched with a spirit of unity, and the hope for a brighter future.
I never met Pauline Brown; I got to know her because of the impression she left on a young high school student named Jordan Greenberg, and on the entire neighborhood of Clarksville, a town founded by the former slaves of Texas Govenor Elisha M. Pease.
Pauline Brown’s story-telling at the Austin Batcave, a nonprofit writing center for kids, captivated Jordan. “I was really struck by her words and felt that the stories and memories she told were beautiful. I thought a lot about her and what she said long after the interview was over, and even more so after I read about her passing (away) just a few weeks later.”
Jordan was so certain that Pauline’s “amazing accomplishments” would connect with children, that she decided to write and illustrate a scholarship-winning book about Pauline’s efforts to save historic Clarksville from urban sprawl. The little book is a tender-hearted reflection on the lives former slaves scraped together. It is also an ode to the wisdom that kept bitterness at bay.
The “ville” of Pauline’s youth is gone. Precious few of its tin-roofed, shot-gun styled homes still dot the wooded and hilly landscape. They have been replaced by a global village and modern, suburban architecture. But, her insights and ambitions linger like the sweet aroma of fresh-baked pie:
“Never forget where you come from.”
“These are great times, please use [them] wisely.”
“Thank your mother and father, or whoever is taking care of you.”
“Do your part; help wherever you can.”
“Please stay in school.”
“And, remember: this is Clarksville the first freedom town west of the Mississippi, founded in 1871.”
Pauline Brown’s memory will be honored this weekend in Austin at the Second Annual Dream Pie Social at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, one of four old-fashioned community gatherings planned to uplift the community in celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr., Holiday. I joined the ServeaDream Organizing Committee, because a pie social encourages citizens of every stripe to come together, and savor food and memories while raising money to preserve the community — even though I admit that being so close to the disregarded family homes and accomplishments has made me a little weary.
Thank goodness for new friends and the precious lore of strong, affirming women like Pauline Brown.
Jordan sums it this way:
“Pauline’s story is proof of the adage that ‘one person can make a difference.’ She was a leader in her community who was truly effective and was also a warm and loving person. Pauline is everything a person can hope for in a role model or heroine; she was brave and determined and also compassionate and kind. She was a strong leader in the community but also a gentle and loving participant… I am very grateful that I have been able to directly give back to the community I was so inspired by.”
Who inspires you?
If you would like to know more about Austin’s Dream Pie Socials, please visit: www.serveadream.org
In Her Kitchen
Lemon Meringue Pie
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 baked (9-inch) pie shell
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
- Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch and salt in the cold water. Add to the boiling water, stirring with a wire whisk. Allow to cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Beat a little of the hot liquid into the yolks, then add the yolk mixture to the hot mixture. Stir in the butter. Return to th heat and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the filliing boils. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Add the lemon zest and juice and beat with a wire whisk to cool slightly. Set aside 30 minutes. Pour into the pie shell and let cool. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Beat the cream of tartar with the egg whites until frothy, then beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the lemon extract, and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Spread the meringue onto the cooled lemon filling, spreading to the edge of the crust to seal. Bake until firm and golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack to room temperature, then refrigerate at least 3 to 4 hours before serving.
Note: Topping the cooled filling with the meringue will prevent weeping.
Number of servings: 8
In Her Kitchen