Great Grandma, Best Pie Baker in Cloverdale
When I was very young, many members of my extended family lived in Cloverdale, CA. or thereabouts. It wasn’t far from my home in Santa Rosa but it seemed like a thousand miles away! My parents only took this trip on Thanksgiving. I had cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents living in the area. Most didn’t speak to each other, something I didn’t find strange.
I clearly remember my great-grandmother’s home, a big, old Victorian on Main Street. I most especially remember her fragrant, busy kitchen. It was old but homey and always smelled good!
Entering her white house, the wonderful smell of baking pies, a fat turkey roasting in her wood oven, along with everything else she had spent days cooking, wafted out to greet me and hit me right over the head.
I ran through the creaking screen door, held open by an unknown relative, and straight to the back of the house to her kitchen. Her kitchen was the heart of her house. I have no memory of any other rooms except they seemed too dark to explore. And I liked to eat!
The strange green wallpaper AND ceiling, the single light fixture, the “pie” table, the checkered floor and a black wood stove with the biggest stovepipe I’d ever seen were reminiscent of this wonderful “Thanksgiving” painting.
Big Ladies Bring the Food
Busy women wore full aprons in cotton calicoes trimmed in lace with straps that crossed in back. There were never women who were thin around my family but rather hefty, strong, large-breasted women! Very Scotch-Irish with round faces and curly hair.
My brothers and myself were the only children in attendance and were often grabbed off our feet and hugged into ample bosoms to the point of suffocation!
The pie dough never went to the cat as in the painting (horrors!) but was rolled out and baked with a goodly portion of cinnamon and sugar on top. Much better than deviled eggs or olives! To this day, IF I make pies, the “doughies” must also be made! We enjoy them just like the pie that made them possible.
A Last Meal
One year and perhaps the last meal I enjoyed there, we arrived a day early, staying with my grandmother who lived down the road and around the corner. (She and my grandfather were never invited.) Many in my parents’ families lived either in this small town or the one nearby, Healdsburg. As far as I knew, they didn’t like each other. Much later, I found out the WHOLE story but another time perhaps. I had crossed main street, after visiting with my cousins. to go to my great~grandmother’s house for a surprise visit.
She lived alone happily and needed no help with her chores. Her husband had wandered off years before. At that time, they lived in a small logging village named Gualala, high above the sea. As the story of George went, “he fell off a cliff and never knew what hit him…” The words “never knew what hit him” seemed to make his accident completely acceptable to anyone who was explaining it.
She was an independent woman who enjoyed her porch, old rocking chair and cherry tobacco in her mother’s small pipe. She often muttered “damned Yankees…” as she watched people pass by her house. I just took the phrase to mean people she really didn’t like.
Can you guess what she was doing?
The day I dropped by unannounced, I found her out back in her chicken yard where she was inexplicably chasing turkeys in circles. I noticed her sharpened axe laid next to the chopping block, a huge old tree stump. Seemingly she liked chasing her birds around, scaring them half to death. She turned to me panting, her face red and sweating. She announced we were catching our Thanksgiving dinner. She was a woman of few words.
“Stand over there so he won’t get away this time!” said she.
She had a flair for the dramatic. I remember how skilled she was in axe-wielding and more blood than I could imagine. Her many cats came running from nowhere as the once proud turkey, now headless, stumbled in circles. She never said a word about the murder except to thank me for the good job I had done in corralling the critters.
Later he was set to steam in a huge pot on her wood-fired canning stove she kept on her back porch, making it easier to pluck the feathers from a carcass.
I felt no emotion for the headless fowl in the pot and had moved onto more tasty delights. We washed up at the big old cement sink and headed to her berry patch, picking bowls of sweet berries for Thanksgiving pies. Simple as that.
Shall I tell you about her mincemeat?
Originally penned many years ago…