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.
Our pie-baking excursion had barely begun, and already I was getting a little teary-eyed subconsciously drifting between wondering what life would be like for these kids when they returned to their homes, and teaching them a few basic cooking skills.
“Wash your hands and your produce. Gather your ingredients and read your recipe from beginning to end.”
…Is there someone there to whisper words of comfort in their ears when they are sad or terrified? Do they have anyone to tell their dreams to?
“First you grip the apple with your index finger and your thumb”
…Have they ever been given advice over a steamy hot cup of cocoa with marshmallows on top?
“Take hold of the knife in your other hand and apply gentle pressure to separate the skin from the flesh.”
…Where do they go for advice?
“Yes, we could use a vegetable peeler, but then you don’t learn the proper way to handle a knife. If you don’t hold the apple correctly, the task takes longer and is much more difficult.”
…Why are they so hurt and angry?
“Be patient; the pie will be out of the oven soon.”
…What can I do to help preserve their dignity?”
I try to settle my thoughts down and accept the reality that this little group of troubled high schoolers and I have come together at The Kitchen Space to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s message of opportunity and equality, and to bake an apple pie — not bring about world peace. On second thought, maybe we could…
Tears well up in my eyes as we talk about slavery and civil rights, and the role education plays in the pursuit of freedom. They tell me about the role models in their community and I get them thinking about the ways food careers are linked with independence, notoriety, and prosperity. They giggle and chat incessantly as they eagerly wait for their pies to emerge from the oven — expressing a new-found confidence and pride in their work and showing respect for the commercial kitchen by cleaning their tools and their workspace, all while patiently anticipating the pleasure of the first bite of a simple, sweet treat that they made themselves.
They wrap their warm pies in foil. Head toward the Travis County van that gives them a second chance. Then one of the boys breaks through the tough-guy persona he had projected just 90 minutes earlier by expressing his appreciation for our time together.
And he gives me a hug.
This risky, tender-hearted gesture captures the very essence of the SANDE Youth Project, the nonprofit mentoring and training program I founded to inspire and empower underserved youngsters toward healthy, productive futures. It also personifies the vision of last week’s MLK Day Dream Pie Social for fellowship and unity:
“A pie is a warm hug wrapped in a crust.”
What’s your pie story? To share your favorite pie memory, click below on COMMENT.
If you would like to learn more about The SANDE Youth Project visit my website at:
To learn more about the MLK Day Dream Pie Social, visit:
The Austin Chronicle or
The Austin American Statesman
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