Clyde, Time Was: A paean to pie, pottery and our lump of clay

Published 12:32 am Sunday, November 25, 2018

Time was, we made pies.

Deep, luscious, crusty, mouth-watering, fruits, fresh-baked, still warm from the oven, topped with real whipped cream. Enough to make a Yankee drool. Made with whatever you had on hand. No choices. A few apples left on the tree, cherries the blue jays missed, a new crop of  pecans. If nothing else it was a chess pie, golden yolk eggs, churned butter, a dribble of fresh cow’s milk stirred in. “Nothing says lovin’.”

You literally couldn’t afford to make one like it today. Who would you pay for that labor force? Every graph has a segmented pie chart of where our money went. Mary Deasy warned us of the dangers of the social pie. How many pies would it take to chart our divided busy lives? Who takes time to make a real pie from scratch, with all the selections on the shelf tempting you at Food Lion?

Someone should open a pie shoppe in Downtown Salisbury with the pie du jour. Tax included. R.M. Hutchins said “most people spend their time on the urgent rather than the important.” The perfect pie is a picture of pure palatable personification on a plate.

Who is that in that pie, Sweeney Todd?

Pie plates in tin burned on the bottom. Pyrex, with oxide of boron, browned just right and comes in colors. The original “dirt dish” was more art than utilitarian but they forgot to tell the potter. Old Salem decorated and signed theirs, but Salisbury potter Michael Morr who lived on lot No. 34 never left a shred of evidence that he was here in 1765. We could dig in the dirt for some. Maybe get a grant to find nothing.

By 1927 a list of N.C. pottery producers included Brown Brothers in Arden, Pisgah Forest, Omar Khayyam in Candler, Reems Creek, Hilton on Route 1 in Hickory, Log Cabin, The Jugtown Pottery which would become world famous, North State in Sanford, which shows up at yard sales, and Kennedy pottery with hand-painted red earthenware.

It all came from the dirt, clay and Kaolin that was here all the time. They turned it by kick wheels into sleek, cylindrical, applied handle, ovoid forms — jugs, crocks, storage jars and, yes, liquor flasks. Ye olde supply and demand, artists still do.

Job 33:6 — “Behold, I am according to thy wish in God’s stead; I also am formed out of clay.”

No list would be complete without the grandfather of them all. Daniel Seagle, stamped D.S. (1805-1867) “very thin walled, concave shoulders, and incised belly.” He brought them down from Catawba Valley in wagons packed with straw, like watermelons. Alkaline glazes from cullet, ground-up glass, and wood ashes made for runs in the ground hog kiln that still make a collector’s heart race. Larry, the plumber, found one under a house recently. Master potter, William Mark Hewitt, surmises that the invention of glazed pottery in the South jumped here from China and Japan.

The Amish gave us shoofly pie, minced meat and rhubarb pie. You can use about anything for a nice pie. Green tomatoes, peanut butter, vinegar, kushaw (thanks to George Raynor), or as we first called it, pizza pie. The French added meringue in 1706. We put them in punched-tin pie safes, ventilated to keep them safe from bugs, not from our grubby little hands and open mouths. We just wanted one more slice of “pea-can” pie.

“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock and established my goings.” — Psalm 40:2

What have you done with your lump of clay? Eat more pies!

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.