Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sure-Enough Pies

Several years after the war, our postman came in one morning saying, “Well, I see they’ve got you written up in the Saturday Evening Post.” He showed me the article—some American soldiers were telling a reporter how a Chaplain had made them pancakes. I have never heard one echo of the sermons I preached (around the world) during the war, but now and then I hear, to this day, about the grub we had here and there. It is most humiliating to one’s professional pride.

There was little at times to be had but black bread and soup and tea, this was the Russian’s regular diet. A few Americans came along one day to my place talking about “pancakes.” I set them chopping out a mill-race; we got some poor barley and ground it. I got a little reindeer milk and let it sour on the back of the stove, then using the bicarbonate of soda from my medicine kit, I got them to rise (a little). We had some poor treakel [sic] for sweetening and then I made a griddle (as I told you) from a locomotive boiler.The cakes stuck to the griddle—until I greased it with a Swedish turnip cut in two—then we had pancakes. Somehow that got into print.

Then there was pie.Thanksgiving and Christmas and some other holidays whenever there were any Americans that came together, someone would say “pie.” I experimented a little in the house (a palace) where we happened to be in Moscow and found that the product was passable. So several times I ventured. In Mourmansk [sic] and along that front it was difficult to get anything to make a crust OR filling. Lard was unobtainable, but I begged a little white flour from the cook on the flag-ship and having lived in Labrador, I knew the value of seal fat (Parenthesis—Labrador skippers have told me that they have sailed for Spain with seal oil and on arrival without changing cargoes have trans-shipped at the Custom House, for New York where they have arrived with a cargo of olive oil. It is likely a sailor’s yarn, but it gave me an idea.) So I made pie crust with seal oil, secured a mess of (wormy) dried apples from a Lapland village and made a batch of pies of flaky crustiness (they were all right—delicious in fact—if you held your nose while swallowing for seal oil has an odor sui generis).

My last venture with pies was at the Eagle hut in London a few weeks before the Armistice. When I landed in London in August of ’18, I had had no word from my family—no mail—since Christmas. I immediately looked around to find, if I could, someone from Cincinnati, and ran across Claude Shafer. He was giving cartoon lectures at the Eagle Hut. I went with him and found the boys all fed upon English Raspberry tarts (and other kinds) so Claude suggested I make a batch of sure-enough pies. There was plenty of good material available there and I made a big batch while Claude drew a cartoon of me, which he sent home to his paper (in those days, The Post). The English cooks caught on to the upper crust business and their tarts thereafter became sure-enough pies. --from Rev. Jesse Halsey's account of his service with the Y.M.C.A. during World War I

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