Ford column: The life of Pie in Peever
By Emily Ford
The Peever Pie Palace is worth a trip to South Dakota, but wait a couple months before you go.
Owner Char Jarman is a little overwhelmed right now.
“If you think we were swamped last week, we were even more swamped yesterday,” Char said when I called her for an interview. “We totally ran out and I was about ready to give up.”
Ran out of pies, that is.
Char’s homemade pies are now famous, appearing in the June issue of South Dakota Magazine. Apparently many South Dakotans (and a few North Carolinians) are making the trek to tiny Peever on Wednesdays, the day that Char makes about 16 pies at the crack of dawn.
My sister Merilee summed up the fruit-filled pastries when, after completely stuffing ourselves, she sighed, “Why would you ever eat pie again?”
The Wednesday that eight of us piled into my dad’s car and drove 50 miles to Char’s Cafe, which my family dubbed the Peever Pie Palace, the pie selection written on a scrap of paper read: apple, peach, blueberry, cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin, sour cream raisin, strawberry, lemon chiffon, pecan and banana cream.
You can see our dilemma.
We arrived at 11:15 a.m., 15 minutes after Char begins serving “dinner” as she calls it. By 11:25 all the tables in the modest cafe were full.
The one-page menu offered typical fare like hamburgers and chili, but most ordered the special: the hot beef combo. This beef sandwich, served on white bread with mashed potatoes and covered with gravy, is a South Dakota staple.
The waitress encouraged us to order our pie immediately. We tried every kind, eating nine slices there and taking home eight more. Most customers left with a slice to go.
No wonder she runs out.
When I called Char a week after our visit, I thought she was going to hang up on me.
“I’m not giving any more interviews,” she said, “about pie.”
It was self-preservation, really. Char and husband Allen must be approaching 80 and have run the small cafe since 1977. The sudden onslaught of customers from near and far devouring hot beef combos and pies of all flavors has caused them no small amount of stress.
Instead of pie, I asked Char about the memorabilia displayed in her cafe. The keeper of the Peever Community History website, Char was happy to talk about her beloved town. Just not pie.
An old police hat reminds customers that Peever once required law enforcement. Now, with a population of 235, all that remains is a liquor store, post office, community building and the cafe, which doubles as a grocery store.
Among photos of the devastating 1915 and 1966 fires and a trophy awarded to Peever’s championship tug-of-war team, two lonely dog collars hang on the wall.
“We loved that dog, Wolf,” Char said.
Their husky died two years ago, and the Jarmans never got another. The other collar belonged to Andy, a dog killed when someone ran a stop sign.
I hope there are no more dog collars on the wall when we return to Peever next summer. And I hope Char is still making pie.Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.
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