May 26, 2002
A Puzzle For Archaeologists Of The Future

My grandfather made it for my grandmother many years ago. It was roughly cubical, a foot in each direction, perhaps a bit higher than it was wide and deep. It was hollow, made from thin sheets of metal -- probably tin --, sturdy but lightweight. Inside were three or four equally spaced shelves of the same material. There were simple handles on both sides. The front side was a door, which swung open on hinges, with a clasp to keep it shut. The top and sides were pierced with tiny holes. I only know it from my mother's description.

I've sometimes wondered what the archaeologists of the future will think if they dig it up from whatever trash heap was its final resting place and succeed in putting it back together. The form is simple, but the function could be difficult to decipher.

It was a pie box, made to take multiple fresh-baked pies to church picnics and family reunions. The holes were small enough to keep flies out, large enough to let cooling breezes in and avoid mustiness.

I hadn't thought of my grandmother's pie box for many years, but John Weidner's reply to last Wednesday's post on American pies reminded me. I had said that good pies cannot be found in stores "since they are labor-intensive and do not keep well". Actually, it's hard to say how long a traditional home-baked pie would keep if no one ate it: I've never known one to last more than 24 hours in human company, even when there were other pies to distract and confuse the predators. As for labor-intensive, I figure a good home-baked pie costs at least $20 to produce, even if the baker's actual or nominal pay scale is the federal minimum wage. I doubt that anything like them will ever be sold in stores.

Weidner quite rightly added that pies are fragile and often have a liquid core, like the earth (my comparison, not his), which "makes them impossible to serve neatly or divide equitably or transport safely". His sound gooeyer than mine, but he is right that you cannot turn them sideways or upside down, you cannot stack them, and it is inadvisable to shake them. If you need to take them somewhere in a car, you must carry them on your lap, one per person. Even for short trips, this may not be easy, particularly if the car is full of wiggly, clambering, unbelted children. A pie box allows you to stow them all (the pies, not the children) in the trunk, though you will still need to avoid speeding and potholes.

With today's much smaller families, spread out across the continent and sometimes beyond, I don't suppose there's much need for pie boxes anymore, at least outside of Amish country. I wonder if they have them. If not, perhaps I should make a few and take them to Lancaster for sale.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at May 26, 2002 10:56 PM