Cracking the case of Mrs. McCoy’s elusive pie

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A young girl decides during a fall supper to get to the bottom of the rumours about a local woman and her famous pastry

The brick schoolhouse that usually sat vacant during the long dark evenings suddenly burst into the limelight the night of the fall supper.

Farm trucks backed up to its doorway to unload sacks of potatoes and carrots while middle-aged matrons fussed and fumed as self-appointed overseers of the impending feast.

Soon the smell of brewed coffee began wafting out into the chill night air.

As if drawn by the aroma, dozens of rural vehicles converged upon the schoolhouse, while villagers picked their way on foot along the cinder path that led over the railway tracks.

Among them would be Mrs. McCoy (not her real name). I decided to wait at the schoolhouse door to see if I could glimpse one of her famous pies. I had overheard certain rumours about them that piqued my curiosity.

She soon came shuffling along and as the door opened, the light from inside shone on the lemon pie she carried. Through the clear glass covering I could see delicately browned peaks of high fluffy meringue dotted here and there with beads of condensation.

I followed her inside.

Fathers were digging deeply into their overall pockets for the silver collection. Mothers were hurrying to the kitchen with their roasting pans. Kids were wandering around between the long tables, feasting their eyes on the wiggly jellied salads.

I kept my eye on Mrs. McCoy.

When she thought no one was looking, she slid her lemon pie onto the bottom shelf in an obscure corner of the kitchen and gently closed the cupboard door.

Good fortune smiled when an elderly couple “adopted” me for the meal, heaping my plate high with my very own choice of food. When Mother protested, she was gently rebuked.

“It’s only once a year. Let her eat what she wants.”

What I wanted was a slice of Mrs. McCoy’s lemon pie.

While I waited for dessert, I was amused to see local farmers serving coffee, the handles of blue granite kettles clasped firmly in rough, gnarled hands. As they moved up and down between the tables, they bantered back and forth with neighbours about the price of wheat or the best date to ship cattle.

Unaware of my secret longings for a piece of Mrs. McCoy’s lemon pie, my elderly overseers slipped me a large piece of pumpkin pie instead, smothered in whipped cream.

I had to struggle to finish it, and by then I had no room left for lemon pie.

And besides, the tables all around me were being cleared and reset for latecomers, a sure sign that I’d have to wait another whole year for a piece of Mrs. McCoy’s pie.

Out in the kitchen a workforce of jovial farm women slowly moved a mountain of dirty dishes through a steamy tidal wave of hot water, undaunted by the billowing soap suds that engulfed their arms up to the elbows.

Somewhere among them was my mother, sorting and separating the clean dishes, a bleached flour sack flung over her shoulder as a tea towel.

While I waited for her to put away the dishes, I tended the doors for the men who were disassembling the makeshift tables, loading the sawhorses and planks onto waiting trucks. And quietly making her exit in among them was Mrs. McCoy, carrying home her lemon pie intact.

So the rumour was true.

Just as she had apparently done for so many years gone by, Mrs. McCoy had used her considerable pastry skills to bake a luscious lemon pie, and then hid it in an obscure corner where it would most certainly be overlooked.

Riding home that night in the back seat of our 1931 Studebaker, with the cutlery rattling in the empty roasting pan on my knee, I still puzzled over Mrs. McCoy and her pie.

To this very day, I think of her whenever I catch myself trying to hide away a gift or talent where it is unlikely to be discovered.

The reasons I can give are many. I don’t want to risk public criticism. Nobody has asked me. My little bit will never be missed. I don’t want to make a commitment. It’s only for personal enjoyment.

Then I remember how disappointed I was that I never got to enjoy a sample of Mrs. McCoy’s baking. And I wasn’t the only loser. In sharing for the benefit of others, I also discover how very much she missed by putting her pie on the bottom shelf.

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