Until I moved to North Carolina 43 years ago, I had no idea that meat pies were such a thing. Where I grew up in the Midwest, a local church hosted “Harvest Home Supper” with homemade chicken noodles that were really something. They were no doubt a riff off the meals served threshers who harvested grain every fall.
I checked the Christian Church website to sadly learn that the chicken noodles—and the slaw and the rolls and the desserts—are history. Harvest Home is kaput.
My mother baked fruit pies and coconut meringue pies with homemade crust, but I never saw her make a meat pie. Those were the purview of Banquet, founded in New Jersey, and Swanson, the Omaha company that perfected the frozen dinner, if such a thing is possible.
Chicken pies in the Piedmont contain vegetables, though I think carrots and peas and potatoes make a juicier, superior pie. I’m sure I learned that from Swanson and Banquet.as a child. It was so easy to buy those little frozen tarts. They came in chicken, beef and turkey, but the bottoms were always doughy. All contained vegetables, and as we all know, whatever you learn at home, goes.
Hurried times have stressed the church-made food business. “The ones who make the pies” have either retired or passed on. And young folks in general don’t care to learn the art of dough rolling, chicken deboning or gravy making.
Over the years I familiarized myself with the New Hope Moravian pies sold during Candle Tea in Startown. The pies came with a star cut out of the center, in fact, and a packet of gravy to keep things moist. Those pies were strictly meat, gravy and crust. Are they making them this year? I haven’t heard
Plateau United Methodist Church is famous for their chicken pie offerings. Some friends bought me one a few years ago, if I’m remembering right. If you missed this year’s sale, it’ll be back again next October.
A friend shared memories of growing up in Catawba County in the 1950s and 60s. It seems her Huffman relatives were into “pot pie” in the literal sense, setting up a cast iron cauldron over an open fire, stewing chicken and dumpling dough on top to make a Dutch oven type chicken pot pie for real. Instantly, I was jealous of coming to Catawba County too late to witness this direct tie to Colonial America.
I understand that the ladies of Grace Reformed Church in Newton used to make chicken corn soup every fall. When I heard about all the work involved in picking sweet corn, shucking it, preparing it to freeze until fall, when the corn was combined with a host of hand-processed ingredients. I wasn’t surprised that the soup tradition has fallen by the wayside.
Around 1990, my own church in Hickory ventured into chicken pie production. A few hearty souls volunteered to do the picking and the dough rolling.
If I remember correctly, it was a one-off proposition. For one thing, chicken pies weren’t a tradition for us. We didn’t have the core group of seasoned pie makers who knew how to efficiently produce in quantity. And there was the issue of freezer space. The group soon realized that there are simpler ways to raise money.
Though I’m a chicken pie buyer, not a baker, I know there are intangibles we’re losing with the dearth of the chicken pie fundraisers. Cooking in a church kitchen means you get to know people when you’re bumping rolling pins or mixing ingredients on the range. You become part of something larger than yourself, part of history that you want to maintain.
Everyone benefits, including those of us willing to line up and shell out $12 or $15 to purchase a home-made chicken pie and fatten the coffers of the church mission fund. That’s a win-win for sure.
And there’s something comforting about having the quintessential comfort food stored in the freezer for in-case times—when unexpected company shows up, or the family has a hankering for chicken pie that isn’t from Swanson or Banquet or that newer kid on the block: Marie Callender of California.
PHOTO CREDIT: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MonicaVereanaWilliams