Thanksgiving in America is pie’s time to shine, as one or more of these delightful desserts often provide the sweet finish to Thanksgiving feasts across the country. Depending on where you live or your family hails from, the pies could contain pecan, sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, or a wide variety of other delicious fillings.
The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) collection includes photo stories in which the photographer captures a simple task of daily life, sometimes taking a series of photographs of the steps it takes to complete it. Two photo series I found illustrate the everyday task of making a pie, offering visual insight into life in the 1930s and 1940s, and a chance to observe if anything has changed in the intervening decades. As I plot my pie plan for next week, I’ll share these two stories of pie making from the FSA/OWI collection below.
Mary Mutz of Moreno Valley, California puts together an apple pie through five photos, from filling the pie crust, adding the top crust, trimming and crimping it, sprinkling sugar on top and baking the pie. The negatives aren’t always numbered in order so it’s important to look closely when putting together the sequence, as seen here:
Other photos of the Mutz family by photographer John Collier, Jr. document family meals, chores, the livestock on their ranch, their home and other aspects of life on a second generation family-run cattle ranch.
In a November 1939 visit to a commercial bakery in San Angelo, Texas, photographer Russell Lee shows bakery staff making dough, shaping rolls, baking and slicing bread, and yes, making two different size pies. Unlike Mary Mutz, they are focused on producing many pies, perhaps for Thanksgiving, not just one to grace the family dinner table. Where she scooped apple pie filling from a pot on the stove, these two photos show a worker cutting up pumpkin for one type of pie and two men making a different filling on a larger scale. (Clearly the bowl on the right is hot, as the man is using potholders as he pours it, suggesting a pre-cooked filling.)
Here, two of the bakers prepare pie crust on their large worktable, and we can see two stacks of pie tins waiting to be filled, larger ones in the foreground and a precarious stack of smaller ones at the back of the table.
The production line work continues, as they fill those empty tins with crust and a third person adds filling. At least two kinds of pies are being made at the same time, based on the color difference in the visible fillings. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the finished products or the happy customers who bought these treats!
Whether you bake it or buy it, here’s hoping a delicious pie or two is part of your Thanksgiving table. As you can see in the two photos below, from roughly fifty years apart, a pie is always a crowd pleaser!
- Revisit previous Picture This posts on the subject of Thanksgiving and one featuring pies in a most unusual way: Feast Your Eyes: Floating Pies.
- Explore the FSA/OWI Collection through photos of as well as the metaphor of pie in this Picture This post: Sampling Slices of the FSA/OWI Collection.
- Spend some time at the bakery in San Angelo, Texas through the full set of photos taken by Russell Lee in November 1939.
- Learn more about life on a cattle ranch with the Mutz family in these photos from February 1943 by John Collier, Jr.