Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Maryland Pies

     Sue and I watched the movie Julie & Julia last night.  It tells the true story of  Julie, who decided in 2002, to cook all of Julia Child’s French recipes in a year, and write a daily blog about the experience.  Her blog became popular.  A year later she received all kinds of offers from magazine editors and book publishers and TV show producers.  And since movies are like real life, (n’est pas ?)  now I’ll know what to expect when 13thMass blog turns 1.

     After the movie I commented to Sue, (who constantly uses the internet to find recipes and cooking tips) “Wow, cooking is a hot topic.   I should write about cooking.”

     "Yes." she replied.

     I could do a Civil War cook book.  But it has already been done; several times.  (The sausage/ham meatloaf is really good).  I do have a lot of food stories though.  The soldiers often wrote about food in letters, diaries and memoirs; because they were often hungry.  Here is one of my favorite food stories from the chronicles of the 13th Mass; about Maryland pies.  The following recipes didn’t make it into the cook book; fortunately.
By Clarence H. Bell.

     Austin Stearns wrote in his memoirs  "To appreciate a Maryland pie one must eat it.  One of some kinds would be a great plenty."     The following excerpt from an article in the military magazine 'Bivouac', circa 1885 sheds more light.

     All the latter half of 1861, the Thirteenth was quartered in different parts of Western Maryland, and as the population of that region was of a thrifty nature, our camps were often thronged with hucksters of both sexes, who catered to the dainty appetites of those not yet thoroughly broken to army fare, and whose finances were not wholly depleted.  Various were the wares that tempted the greedy — roasted chickens, boiled eggs, biscuits - but more than all else, pies.  And the resources of that section in the line of pies were remarkable.  When it is remembered that a large body of New Englanders sojourned there for so many months, it is to be wondered at that none of the receipts for the filling of pies were brought away; for in all the development of talent in the building of pies, and the subterfuges for filling those pies – to keep the crusts from too intimated contact- Western Maryland “takes the cake.”

     We had become used to custard and pumpkin pies of so thin a texture that we suspected the filling to have been put on with a paint-brush, when one day a new variety appeared in the shape of elderberry pies.  The unwary bought one, for there is always the first step in folly – be sure they never bought another.  The purchaser would take a liberal bite, but the slow mastication, and the haste to get behind a tent, or other convenient shield, to unload both mouth and hand, proved that elderberry pies were not appreciated.  If ever a new purge is needed, certainly this delectable combination is to be recommended.  The regiment was a full one, and a great many elderberry pies were palmed off upon our unsophisticated members, ere we became thoroughly introduced to the novelty.

     Human life is a progress.  There are gradations both upward and downward.  From one lane of happiness, we can look forward and upward to a higher, to which we may attain; and in the opposite degree, there are depths of misery into which one may fall, only to find, later on, a depth yet lower.  We had vainly imagined that elderberry pie was the bottomless pit of misery into which a pie-addicted individual could be decoyed, when one day there blossomed on our visions yet another variety.  The rustic peddler passing into camp was greeted with: “What have you got to sell, old man?”  “Pies,” was the answer, as he deftly lifted the napkin, exposing a basket well filled with nicely browned pastry, very tempting in its outward appearance.

The numbers that gathered about, had the money in hand and the exchange was very rapid.  “What kind of pies do you call these, old fellow?” 

“T’martusses.”  “What?”  “T’martusses - t’martusses.”

Somehow or other, we could not comprehend the dialect, nor could our minds grapple with the compound the peddler informed us the pies were made of.  It was only when we crossed our legs and sat down on the ground to supper that we realized the conundrum.  A single mouthful solved the doubt – demolished the expectation of a pleasant repast, and made us long for the elderberry, as the pie of paradise compared to our new acquaintance.  Talk about the ingenuity of our Yankee housekeepers!  One stands but little chance of loss in wagering that in all of the eccentricities of our New England kitchen discoveries, no Yankee matron ever hit upon green tomatoes as filling for pies.  Just imagine, if you can, the change from joy to poignant grief, as a tired guardsman lays down a ‘hard-tack,” and bites into a well-browned pie stuffed with green tomatoes very stingily sprinkled with sugar.  Ah, “T’martusses Pie!”  Many long years have elapsed since our first and only introduction to thee, but the misery of our meeting yet lingers in the volumes of memory.  Thou wer’t the dessert in the oasis of our army fare, crossed just once – we never went there again.  “Lost to sight, to memory dear” – very dear – about twenty-five cents worth.

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