Thursday, January 23, 2014

Please Pass the Pie...and the Coffee Too

There's a "national day" for everything, it seems. Today is National Pie Day. I like that. I'm a big fan of pie. It's often a wholesome dessert. Just last evening my husband and I consumed the last two pieces of a custard pie I made on Monday. We have a flock of hens that provide us with rich, delicious eggs--perfect for custard. I have fond childhood memories of eating custard my mother made from her hens' eggs, and chocolate pie my Aunt Grace made from our hens' eggs, and tapioca pudding my grandmother made....  (Read my eBook The Funky Chicken: Memories, Truth, & Tribute to be amused by a childhood spent caring for a big flock of chickens and a cache of chicken and egg recipes from my family. Find it on Amazon at

But...back to pie. Pie and coffee. These were staples at lighthouses, of course. Coffee was always kept hot on the stove at every lighthouse. A lightkeeper never knew when he or she might rescue a castaway or have to work in the bitter cold weather. Lighthouse keepers guzzled a lot of coffee. And they ate lots of pie too. They worked hard and needed lots of calories.

I collect recipes from current and former lightkeepers, and from their descendants, because foodways are important in any pursuit or lifestyle, the lighthouse life included. I have several pie recipes, and I'm sharing one today in honor of National Pie Day. It's a recipe from the late Connie Small (Constance Scovill Small), a legend in "lighthousedom." She spent many years on Maine lighthouses with her husband, lightkeeper Elson Small, and was a fabulous cook. She once told me that meals were the highlight of the day for Elson, and for any lighthouse keeper for that matter: "Lighthouse work is hard and strenuous, and sometimes it's cold and miserable, and you don't get much thanks for it beyond self-satisfaction. So a good hot meal is important. I always made sure Elson had three square meals a day."

Here's a picture of Connie in 1946 on Maine's Dochet Island, St. Croix River Lighthouse, feeding her chickens. They had a swanky coop! (Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office)

Connie wrote a book about her lighthouses experiences. It's called The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife. It's still in  print, though Connie passed away on January 25, 2005 at the age of 103. Known to the world as "The Lady of Light," her fame was so great by then The New York Times carried her obituary and this photo of Connie as a young woman. (Photo courtesy of the University of Maine Press)
Now that you know what a legend Connie Small was, here's her apple pie recipe, quoted to me at her kitchen table in Kittery, Maine in the late 1980s.

Connie Small's Lighthouse Apple Pie
Prepare pie pan with crust and sprinkle the crust bottom with a little flour and sugar. Peel and slice six large apples and arranges the slices in layers, sprinkling sugar between each layer, until the apples are higher than the pie pan rim. Sprinkle the top of the apples lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg -- not too much, as these spices can take away the apple taste. Dot with butter. Cover with a top crust and cut slits to let out steam. Use a fork to seal the top and bottom crusts around the pie rim. Bake 10-15 minutes in a 450 degree oven, then cut back the heat to 350 degrees and bake until a fork goes easily into the pie.

Her recipe makes apple pie sound simple and easy. I suppose it was for her. I interviewed Connie several times in her twilight years and attended her 100th birthday party in Kittery, Maine on June 4, 2001. The photo below was taken at the party. I had presented Connie with a framed a picture of herself and me during my first interview with her in 1987. Her comment was: "Well, my dear....thank you so much. I will cherish this, as I do your longtime friendship. And we do both look a bit younger in that photo!"

My friend and fellow lighthouse author, Jeremy D'Entremont posted a brief interview with Connie on You Tube. Find it here:

As for lighthouse coffee, that's a topic for another day...perhaps a colder day...or National Coffee Day.


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