Monday, April 4, 2016

Pie Town















We took a little road trip last week, planning to explore some parts of western and southern New Mexico that we hadn't really seen before. One of them is Pie Town, a tiny town on US Highway 60 in Catron County, near both the Gila National Forest and the Plains of San Agustin, and just a couple of miles from the Continental Divide. Pie Town's population was 186 in the 2010 US Census; the town itself is very small and you can drive through in just a minute, but I really think you should stop if you're ever in the area.

As you might have guessed, Pie Town is named for pie. Yes! Wonderful pie. Back in the 1920's, a man named Clyde Norman settled here with a 40-acre mining claim as well as a stake in the cattle-driving trail which ran along Highway 60 at the time. In order to supplement his income, Norman opened a small store, where he sold gasoline, kerosene and pies made from dried apples. The pies were popular with cowboys on the cattle trail and the little hamlet became known as Pie Town to those passing through. Eventually, Norman's business was bought out for one dollar by a man named Harmon Craig, who became Pie Town's leading citizen, owning just about every business in town. Pie-making continued, of course. During the Dust Bowl era of the 1930's, the population boomed when families fleeing the barren lands of Oklahoma and Texas established farms in Pie Town. Around this time, the local post office was established and the name Pie Town became official.

In 1940, the Farm Security Administration (a government agency established by then-president Franklin Roosevelt) sent photographers to various parts of the US to document conditions in rural America as the nation struggled to recover from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Russell Lee produced a remarkable series of photos depicting everyday life in Pie Town during the early 1940's; these photos are included in the Library of Congress today. You can see his FSA photos here, or you can browse a wider collection of his photography here.

Our trip to Pie Town began with - what else - pie! It's still a major attraction in Pie Town (tourism is important to its economy; there is an annual pie festival in town too). There are several cafes and small restaurants operating in Pie Town today, along with lodging. Most of the eateries were closed on the day we rolled through, but one was open and looked very welcoming. The Gatherin' Place was a great place to stop for lunch. The Bear and I shared a barbecue pork sandwich and chips (they smoke their meat on the premises in a small free-standing smokehouse next to the main building). The small Bears had cheese quesadillas. There were also burgers on the menu, and plenty of hot coffee. It was a cold, windy day (snow flurries were flying when we first arrived). The wood-burning stove was a welcome sight when we went inside. It's friendly, the kind of place where food is served on Dixie plates with plastic cutlery, where you can sign your name on the woodwork with a Sharpie and they give you the coffee, in a Styrofoam cup, for free with your meal.

For dessert, we had pie, of course. They bake 6-inch pies here, just a few at a time, and you have to put your name on the one you want. We ordered an apricot pie, split four ways. Vanilla ice cream was an option, but we took our pie straight, and it was absolutely delicious, maybe the best pie I've ever had. Want to know why? Lard, that's why. The crust was crisp, flaky and not one bit greasy. The fruit was perfectly cooked, juicy and not too sweet. There was cinnamon in the fruit and coarse, crunchy sugar on top of the crust. Cowboys knew what was good.

After lunch, we went exploring. There are old things everywhere you look - cars, tractors, road signs, houses. On a dirt road south of the main strip, we came upon two dilapidated clapboard houses standing side-by-side. They were within feet of several small houses and trailers that looked inhabited, so we were careful not to disturb anyone, but we had to look around. Stern warnings were given about rusty nails, broken glass and touching absolutely nothing. It was a feast for the eyes, for lovers of old things like the Bear and me. I adore abandoned places, especially when things have been left behind. Life things - coffee cans and mayonnaise jars, Coke bottles, bed springs, shoes. Tattered net curtains fluttered at the broken-out windows; once-lovely wallpaper flapped in the wind. A gutted Plymouth hunkered in the backyard, the windshield shattered and the hood resting on the ground nearby.

I don't know exactly when the people left, but lives were lived here. That afternoon, the sun shone but the wind was icy as it wound around the houses, through the gnarled trees, and up and down the dirt road. Dust blew at our faces. It was harsh but beautiful too - the wide-open landscape, the blue bowl of the sky. Imagine the people who landed here in the 1930's. Compared to the places they left - the parched, desolate plains where wheat would no longer grow, where roiling black towers of dust filled the sky - this was a gentle, fertile paradise. They moved along eventually, when they had saved enough money to start fresh in California, or when the drought relented back home, but for a little while, they found a good place in Pie Town.

37 comments:

  1. Interesting! The ruins are sort of sad, aren't they? The pie sounds good!

    ReplyDelete
  2. this is really neat! I looked at the pictures and found one of a huge quilt that a lady did in 1940 over her lunch hours! impressive! thanks for sharing this, it would be interesting to see such a place and I would be interested in such buildings that were abandoned too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a fun place to visit! This is something we would enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Such an interesting place to visit. The pie sounds amazing!
    Marianne x

    ReplyDelete
  5. When I first saw your photos I thought this was a sad, abandoned place but your words made me look at them differently. Fascinating post, Jennifer, thank you. That pie sounds delectable. Sam x

    ReplyDelete
  6. As a lover of old things, I really enjoyed your pictures of Pie Town; what a great name! It is fascinating to see the remains of the historical past, nearly a century ago. I looked at the other photos, all recording the life of the times. I studied many of those documentary photos from the Great Depression at university, and they are so powerful. Gosh that pie looks and sounds Good!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fascinating Jennifer and what an atmospheric place imbued with history. I remember years ago when we took an old ferry boat across to Orford Ness in Suffolk on the east coast of the UK and wandered the remains of a site that had been used for non-reactive missile testing during the Cold War. It sent shivers down your spine but was so beautiful in its emptiness and abandonment. The Ness is a shingle spit, a very rare habitat in the world due to erosion and rising sea levels and is now listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The apricot pie sounds delicious. My mother always made pastry with half lard and half butter and her pastry was the best and lightest I've ever tasted. I use all butter but perhaps I should follow her example.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a great trip that you took us on, those pies certainly sound delicious. All that treasure abandoned, such a shame.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a fascinating place. It's great to try and imagine the lives played out there. The pie sounds divine. What a great town to explore. CJ xx

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love the sound of Pie Town, and the story of how it came about. I would have wanted to stand in those derelict houses too, and feel the atmosphere, close my eyes and imagine for a moment the smells of cooking, a baby crying, a dog barking outside. X

    ReplyDelete
  11. What a fascination place, I was really interested to hear about its history. The pie sounds delicious.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What an interesting place, Pie Town. I enjoyed this post a lot, it makes me want to travel to interesting places far and close. Apricot pie.... how much I would have loved to share it with you. Apricots (and cherries) are my favourite fruit. xx

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks for sharing, so interesting, and how fun to explore there.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow -- what an amazing post! I LOVED reading about Pie Town and your pictures are beautiful. Now I really, REALLY want to go. I googled it and it looks like it's right out in the middle of nowhere! I hope I find myself in the middle of nowhere someday -- I love stuff like that -- I think it will take a lot of convincing for hubby though! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This really neat! I looked at the pictures and found one of a huge quilt that a lady did in 1940 over her lunch hours! impressive! thanks for sharing this, it would be interesting to see such a place and I would be interested in such buildings that were abandoned too.
    Richard

    ReplyDelete
  17. One of my favorite things to do is discover old things too. Buildings, housewares, cars. I can just imagine the history of the people who left them behind. When we moved here from Nebraska, we visited an old mining town in Idaho. We toured the silver mines, but also visited a bordello. It was left just as if the "girls" had gone somewhere for a few hours. They really did leave town so fast they left everything behind when the law showed up! It was fascinating. You have a wonderful gift with words Jennifer and made me feel I was right there with you in Pie Town. Thank you.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

    ReplyDelete
  18. Old western town and a good pie, can't beat that.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Looks kind of like a ghost town from your photos. I would love to order pie "straight up"! Curiosity about abandoned buildings runs deep in my too. Most likely the residents of that house spent too long a settin' & eatin' pie ;)
    What a great road trip!
    Wendy

    ReplyDelete
  20. Pie Town sounds like a great place to visit a very interesting history, I would love to sample that pie but I think I would like the ice cream option with mine. :) xx

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a fun trip into history! My mom loved making apricot pies and we loved eating them. She was renowned for her pies. But she used Crisco. :-) Your abandoned houses reminded me of my grandparents old farmhouse after they'd moved to "town". We used to poke through it finding treasures. I rescued our kitchen queen and 5 legged oak table from it!! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Jennifer your writing is beautiful, so evocative. Thankyou for a great post. And I really want pie now!!
    Jillx

    ReplyDelete
  23. What a great post & it looks like a great place to visit. Old ruins sadden me a little, all the history attached to these forgotten places xx

    ReplyDelete
  24. How interesting! I've certainly never heard of Pie Town or its history. Always seems a shame that homes are abandoned like that, but gave you something to explore and that's always fun.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hey Jennifer,
    I've read this post three times. I love, love, love stuff like this. The history is fascinating. Your photos of abandoned buildings so evocative (and a bit spooky, I have to admit). When we visited Washington we had a poke around the Library Of Congress, and had a guided tour. It was amazing. They have a first folio edition of Shakespeare's plays on display. And your sweet little bears eating their pie! I love pie.....
    Leanne xx

    ReplyDelete
  26. OK, I was wondering why anyone would share a sandwich as delicious sounding as one you and the Bear ate, but now I understand - you were saving room for pie! I read this post twice and drank up every word and picture. Fantastic. Xx

    ReplyDelete
  27. what a wonderful trip! love the descriptions of everything. deeply envious of the pie! x

    ReplyDelete
  28. What a neat trip and sure looked like you had a good time xo

    ReplyDelete
  29. That was a fascinating post Jennifer, what a place to visit.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Pie sounds good and I would of enjoyed exploring old ruins!!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Oh goodness! I so want to visit Pie Town now. What a wonderful place it sounds. Full of social history.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Such a beautiful, sensitive post, Jennifer. I so enjoyed your description and photos of the abandoned houses and vehicles. When we are in France we come across little cottages that have been similarly abandoned when their elderly owners died and their heirs couldn't find a buyer. I can't help imagining the lives that were once lived there.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Very cool. I would love to visit Pie Town! And that pie itself sounds delicious...I love homemade pie. You are right, the best crust is made with lard. That's how my mom - a southern woman - still makes her delicious pies. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  34. Another adventure of the Thistlebears that I enjoyed so much...every word and picture as Gillian noted :) Thanks for posting, Jennifer! xx

    ps. I have long suspected that lard is the secret to perfect pie crust...now you have confirmed my suspicions :)

    ReplyDelete
  35. What an amazing place to visit. The pies sound delicious. I love to visit old abandoned places and wonder about the folks that lived there.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Your blog is very impressive and have the useful information it is really caught my attention.
    _______
    Fashions

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for leaving a comment. It's so good to hear from you! I don't always have time to reply but I try to answer questions when I can.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...