Map: Georgia, setting of “Taste Better in the Pie” by Tim Oliver

This is a guest post from Tim Oliver who contributed in response to the American Vignette: Pie call for submissions. The setting is Valdosta, Georgia, circa 1964. Enjoy.

It was the summer we were hillbillies. I was eleven, my brother Kerry was eight, and brother Bob, two.  Mountain Dew soft drink had a promotion going on (as well as the homey motto, “Yahoo, Mountain Dew, it’ll tickle yore innerds!”). If you bought a case of the stuff you’d get a hillbilly hat complete with corncob pipe. Our Uncle Curt was a barber in a small town and purchased multiple cases every week. That’s how we got our hats and pipes, right after our annual summer buzz cuts. I was old enough to begin to resent the forced shearing and was grateful to have a cool hat to cover my skinned dome. An older cousin gave us some rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphlium obtusifolium) for the pipes and laughed as we coughed, turned the color of tree frogs,and retched. We studied famous hillbillies like Snuffy Smith, Lil’ Abner, and, of course, the Clampetts, to savor the vernacular and get every nuance down pat. Combined with our natural south Georgia drawls the results were worse than anything Hollywood could ever hope to pervert. It drove Momma to distraction. Every drawn-out, elongated and purposely mis-pronounced word was a personal affront to her. We also studied the musical stylings of Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, and Flatt and Scruggs. By studying them I mean we watched them on TV. Thirty minutes of either would leave us with the agreeable sound of a plinking banjo in our heads. We shirked our chores more than ever, often citing “sinkin’ spells” or, “Ain’t holdin’ with bein’ shiftless,” neither of which were ever sufficient excuses.

After a long summer day of nothing more taxing than arguing whether “professional rasslin'” was real or fake or laughing at our friends, and betting on which one would actually puke from smoking rabbit tobacco, we’d drag home in our hats and cut-offs, barefooted and shirtless. Momma would be finishing preparing supper. Bob would be transfixed by Mister Rogers on the tube. We’d be ordered to clean up, put on shirts, and leave our hats in our room. We would often remark on the smells issuing forth from the kitchen. For greens and cabbage it would be, “What’s that stinkin’?” For frying chicken or pork chops, “Gosh, I’m hungry!” For cakes and pies, speech eluded us, just gustatory harumphs and big smiles.

One such day we skulked in and the kitchen was permeated by a subtle, unidentifiable smell, sweet but not buttery. Kerry and I exchanged glances. “What’s that smellin’ good?” I queried.

“Macaroon pie,” Momma smiled.

“Raccoon pie?” Kerry asked, and we cackled, even moreso when Bob tore his attention from a mewling cat puppet on TV and echoed, loudly, “Raccoon pie?”

“Yeah,” Momma smirked. “Just for you hillbillies!”

“What is it, really?” I asked, reasonably, sweet confections being a matter of upmost importance.

“Macaroon pie. It’s a recipe from a restaurant in Macon called Len Berg’s.” Macon was where Momma and Daddy lived when they first got married, before us younguns’ came along, which was why the place was spoken of in a dreamy reverence. Kerry and I looked for signs of pie construction seeing only bowls piled in the sink.

“Ain’t no bowl to lick, no spoon?” Kerry asked.

“ISN’T ANY! Ain’t’s not a word!” she fumed.

“Reckon what kinda’ pie don’t make a bowl or spoon to lick?” I wondered. She shot daggers at me and was about to speak when Bob tottered into the kitchen all wide eyes and cotton-top stubble, “Where raccoon?”

After a great home-cooked meal of something, the warm macaroon pie was sliced, placed on saucers, and topped with homemade whipped cream. More like a large soft cookie than a pie, it was delicious with flavors unfamiliar to our palates. The list of raw ingredients only confused us: soda crackers, chopped dates, egg whites, pecans, sugar, baking powder, and almond extract. Upon trying a date, Kerry spit his out, invoking Momma’s wrath. I made what I was sure was a suitably ugly face and swallowed with difficulty.

“Kinda’ like a prune with sand in it, ” Kerry observed with considerable distaste. We all laughed, Momma included.

“Taste better in the pie,” I admitted. Indeed, it still does, with or without a nice rabbit tobacco buzz.

Tim Oliver was born in Macon, Ga., raised in Valdosta, Ga., and mellowed to a twisted turn in Tybee Island, Ga. He is currently living a life of what Eugene Walter would call, “shallow licentiousness” in Atlanta. About this vignette he says, “This is less about pie than it’s about when families used to eat together and have fun in the process. Also, we dressed better the summer we were hillbillies than the summer we were Tarzan, but, not as good as the summer we were James Bond.”

3 thoughts on “Guest post: Taste Better in the Pie

  1. I really enjoyed that. I know your mother and could really see this playing out
    in my mind. Love the story about the family times. Live your mom too.

    Like

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