Scholla: Just Common Things Part 1 & 2, July 18 & 20, 1945

Ever since I tasted their shooflies and raised caked, I’ve wanted to see how they do it. And so I chose Friday, for that is their baking day, which begins before sunrise.

Their kitchen is a sizable one. A “Kitchen Sunshine” stove, a gas coal-coal combinations is in a triangular alcove fitted with doors. Their work-table is between the side windows; and antique sideboard graces another wall; and against the wall opposite, an old chest.

“Just sit anywhere you like,” Mrs. Jennie Schappell said, and her partner, Mrs. Mary Alice Adams, who also has passed the allotted three-score -years-and-ten, added “Try the rocker, there by the window.

“Smells good in here,” I began and Jennie, as her customers call her, said matter-of-factly; “Ought to.” Everything’s fresh.”  To which Mary Alice replied. “But we ain’t fancy cooks, We’re just common, plain bakers. And we make just common thing.”

“Have you ever had any baking accidents?:” I ventured.

“More than one! And once a pie fell, upside down!” Answered Mary Alice, elbow deep in the mixing bowl.

“Anything ever burn?”

“Yes more than once, too. But I guess everybody makes mistakes sometimes. We’re not perfect. By far not!” said Jennie, as she made another trip to the oven.

“It looks like you divide your work.”

“Yes, Mary makes the pie dough and rolls it out,” Jennie explained, “and I prepare the things. We help each other. And we don’t go to bed the nigh before until we have our mixing done… about nine or half-past, and then we get up very early.”

“How early?”

“To get our doughnuts to Harvey Dietrich’s store by the time he opens up, we have to start on them at three. Sometimes it’s even earlier. It all depends. And we’re doen about three in the afternoon.”

“How much do you usually bake?’

“Well Mary Alive explained , “Harvey takes from eight to ten dozen doughnuts, and our other customers about six to eight shooflies; as many pies; two or three apple tarts, some weeks. more; and as high as 26 raised cakes. That’s the way it is. Whatever they order.”

“What kind of pies?”

“Oh, cherry, peach, raisin, pumpkin, plum — whatever the people want. This one’s grape tart, from our own grapes — some thing new again.” she said, as she deftly tilled the pie tin, and added a dot of butter here and there and an extra “spray” of sugar, and with a practiced hand, “pinched” a border around it, “just for fancy.”

Among their mixing bowls I noticed a large, white one, “Tht’s an old onem isn’t it?”

“Yes, it belonged to Grandma Schapell. And so did the mixing board. It was made from a wind mill that used to separate chaff from the grain; and this hole in the handle is to hang it up by.”

Spying pie tins with fluted edges, I ventured once again, “those are old-timers, too. I know.” And Jennie nodded, “Wouldn’t part with any of them. Nowadays the tins wear out so fast, and cost too much.”

A neighbor came down the garden path, then and Jennie said “Here comes Mrs. Hamme. See if her corn pie’s ready.

“Corn pie?” I asked.

“Yes, we use our own corn and eggs and things, and we let her take it along in the iron skillet.”

Mrs. Hamme took a shoo-fly, too, and Jennie went to the chest and got out waxed paper and brown bags. And when the neighbor paid her, she opened the lower right-hand drawer of the cupboard and put the money in an out-sized cup, handleless, and gay with patterns done in delicate pink.

Just Common Things Part II              July 20, 1945

“That’s a beautiful fup,” I said, as Jennie pointed out the Old English rural scenes on it.

“It’s Staffordshire,” she explained. “very old. And you know, of course, that in the old days they  drank their coffee out of the saucer.”

“You keep your money in it because it’s so big?” I answered, at which the Friday bakers chuckled.

“We used to bake our own bread,” Mary Alice said. “But it doesn’t pay now, when you can get it every day fresh, and so nice.”

“Remember how we used to spend two long days getting food ready for funerals?” Jennie asked her.

“For funerals?” I interrupted.

“Yes, sometimes there were eight of us at it. I can remember how Mrs. Schaeffer came into the kitchen with a whole wash basket full of groceries. We made 27 high cakes that day, too, and used every recipe we knew of. Put them on stands, and they look pretty!”

“Farm dining rooms are big.” Mary Alice remembered, “And we could take care of everybody. But I’m glad that funeral custom died out, for it’s not necessary to make such a fuss when there’s a corpse in the house. Of course folks traveled by horse and buggy, and came from far off, but some weren’t even related to the corpse.”

“Raisin pie was the funeral pie,” she contintued, “and sometimes we served before and after the funeral, whatever the people wanted.”

“My mother and I,” Jennie kept on reminiscing, “used to bake as high as 32 pies a day at Hotel Fleetwood, when the Fleetwood body works was running full.

“We made 16 of a kind, mince, apple, whatever Mrs. Sadie Herbein needed; buns for breakfast too.”

“I was no big thing in baking,” Mary Alice confessed, “For you must tell the truth. But I’ve baked from little, on.”

“How did you two happen to get together?”

“When we were girls we lived three doors apart in Virginville, and after our husbands died, we decided to live together in Kutztown. Later we made up our minds to do a little baking. Folks found out about it, and now we have so many customers that we don’t want any more.”

“We have enough work,” Jennie said, and her partner added, “It’s a hard job standing a whole day and baking. It’s something!”

The decorating of the raised cake was fascinating to watch, and the shoo-fly making.

“I just squeeze the dough together on top of the raised cake,” Mary Alice demonstrated, “brush it with butter, and sprinkle with sugar.”

“And this gives shoo-fly,” she said later, as she laid a layer of crumbs (sugar, flour, baking powder, butter, and water) in each of the dough-lined pans; poured a mixture of steaming hot molasses and water on them; a second layer of crumbs, and a round spot in the center, “for fancy,” into which  she poured more liquid.

As soon as the “pieces” were baked and browned, the Friday Baekrs took them out of the oven with a small, black shovel, and transferred them to cloth-covered boards, laid across lard cans. When they cooled they took them out of the pans — all with the greatest care.

Mary Alice is the outdoor member of the Fridays Bakers firm,and Jennie the indoors one. That’s why it is Jennie who lingers the longer over “redding up” after the baking is completed, before she goes upstairs to change her dress. And that is why Mary Alice is apt to putter about her herb garden or strawberry patch, or to pick a bouquet for the now empty kitchen table.

“I have around 100 chickens,” Mary Alice said, “and about 40 younger ones,” as she took me on  a tour of her garden, and the hennery in the orchard. When a small rooster strutted up to claim his share of the corn she threw from her apron, she said, “he’s a proud little fellow!” And pointing to a Rhode Island Red pullet she added, “Raised that one in the kitchen, and now she’s always the first to taste the food, spoiled thing!”

I planted everyone of these trees, she explained, “except the walnut.” In the garden were potatoes, corn and other vegetables, and her flower garden was gay with winter poppies and other blooms.

The Friday Bakers are loyal church folks, Jennie having been a member of Grace Evangelical Congregational Church for more than 36 years. They entertain the preacher and his large family now and again, and one of Jennie’s nieces is a missionary in Africa.

The old-fashioned clock was about to strike the noon-day hour, when Mary Alice and I got back to the kitchen. And scarcely had I said, “It’s high time I’m leaving,” than Jennie replied, “There’s no rush. We won’t be through for a while anyway.”

As I climbed College Hill fortified with corn pie hot from the oven, and shoo-fly, I could not help but call to mind Mary Alice’s words:

“But we ain’t no fancy cooks. We’re just common, plain bakers. We’re not perfect, by far not!”

“And we make just common things.”

— Amanda Saeger


Chef Steve Stetzler, proprietor of Dietsch Eck, (Dutch Corner), in Lenhartsville, PA.

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