Pie Lady Moments
If you’re wondering, “pie lady?” what on earth is that, I don’t blame you. Greta Isaac is author of a new book, The Pie Lady: Classic Stories from a Mennonite Cook and Her Friends. In it, Greta shares 32 stories of “pie ladies” and their best recipes in a book that is more story than cookbook. I was privileged to serve as the managing editor for this book in my waning months at Herald Press before retiring, and had a lot of back and forth by phone and email with the author as we edited and revised to get all of her details just perfect. She’s an awesome writer and mom.
The Kansas author’s approach is 100 percent upbeat and beautiful—mingled with an earthy reality among plainer Mennonites who have mostly unpretentious homes, modest farmsteads and a “more with less” approach to life. The women Greta invited to share true stories here are, for the most part not Amish nor Old Order nor thoroughly “modern” Mennonite, but women who dress very modestly by choice or tradition. They quite often find fulfillment and deep happiness in raising their families and working at home. In the introduction, the author writes of the women, “Each life is so amazing, and so full.”
The Pie Lady book starts with Greta’s own growing up days when her grandmother, who lived in Texas, was a literal “Pie Lady.” Greta loved visiting Grandma for a week in summer and helped with pie prep when they loaded up homemade pies in “perfect pie boxes stacked on specially made racks in the trunk of her car, and took them to the local café. There people sprang to open the door and the fridge [saying]: ‘Here’s the Pie Lady!’”
The moment I first read those lines, memories of my mother making yeast-raised cinnamon rolls when we lived in north Florida, and transporting them to the small steak house where I worked as a waitress one summer. The restaurant and customers quickly dubbed her delicacy “Mennonite Sweet Rolls.”
But Greta’s “Pie Lady Moments” can better be described with the word she chooses, “sparkly,” to indicate the many magical moments in our lives and families as pure gold—and having nothing to do with money or heaven forbid, actual jewelry.
Greta relates the story of Julia, a new bride during World War II. When their baby was born, and her husband was serving with Civilian Public Service, she took a job as “house help” for awhile so she could earn money and also care for their small son. In the home where she worked, she loved “learning how to set a beautiful table, loved caring for beautiful things.”
Unfortunately, their first child, Steve, died at the age of three and they mourned him deeply. Five more sons and a daughter came along who, as Julia relates “of course never completely filled his place.” But Julia always had an eye for bright and beautiful things. “All her life, she loved to set the table the way she had learned when she [worked as house help]. She loved making something new and serving it on a red tablecloth. Friends from India taught her to make chicken curry, each topping served in special lovely dishes.”
Somewhere along the line, I also picked up a love for setting a beautiful table—within the limits of our budget and housewares. I remember loving to set the table for company for Mom: for a while her “china” plates were deep emerald green with bubble bumps around the edges, and stemware that matched plates at their bubbled base. If Mom and Dad went away for a banquet or evening out and we kids were feeling adventurous, my older sister cooked a “restaurant” meal—such as with real French fries (!). I set the table using Mom’s best dishes, and one of us would play waitress and we probably made my younger brother be busboy.
If you pick up this delightful book, I’ll wager that within pages, your own mind will rock back to times of enjoying beauty in everyday life—or the special foods you or your own parents made when they had company over or for a special treat just for your family. At the least it will help you better appreciate the lovely people, special possessions, and moments in your own life.
What stories does this stir up for you? Comments are embraced!
Find more information on Greta’s book at https://heraldpress.com/books/the-pie-lady. I’d love to hear your stories! Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.
Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted ata week after newspaper publication.