by David Cecelski
A few days ago, I took my son and a friend tubing on the Dan River. We got on the river 6 or 7 miles upstream of Hanging Rock State Park and got off the river at the Laurel Springs Campground, on the park’s border, where an elegant hotel, now long gone, used to draw crowds to its mineral springs baths. We had a ball on the river, but we were wet, dirty, and really hungry when we finally crawled back onto dry land. So we drove into the nearest town, Danbury, looking for a good place to eat supper.
Danbury is a lovely little town full historic architecture—the Moratuck Iron Furnace, built around 1843, is really a sight. You can see the Saura Mountains all around you, and there’s even a nice swimming beach on the Dan as it passes through town.
That evening, though, the boys and I were thinking more about our stomachs than about historic architecture or scenic views. We were lucky too. The first thing that we saw in town was a sign for “Chicken Pies.” The placard was on the sidewalk on NC 8/89 directly across from the old Stokes County Courthouse and the Confederate veterans’ memorial. I pulled off the road right there.
We were at a bakery and café called Artists’ Way Creations, part of a little row of art galleries and shops that has been bringing new life to the old downtown. Bonnie Rodell, the owner and chief cake decorator, was just closing for the day, but she was just as nice as she could be. She took the time to make a vegetable wrap and a fruit cup for my son’s pal, a vegetarian, and she sold me and my son a frozen, homemade Moravian chicken pie to take back to our cabin and bake.
That pie hit the spot too. Made with not much more than chicken, chicken broth, flour, and margarine or butter, the dish is a simple, but classic comfort food in Stokes, Forsyth, and other nearby counties where Moravians first settled in the 18th century. My son and I could not have been happier. His friend said that the veggie wrap was good too.
Here’s a recipe for Moravian chicken pie that I found in a cookbook published by the Primitive Baptists in Walnut Cove, 10 miles south of Danbury:
Mildred Mabe’s Moravian Chicken Pie
2 cups flour3 cups cooked chicken, chopped
Pinch of salt¼ cup flour
1/3 cup olive oil1 ¼ cup chicken broth
6-8 Tbsp. cold water2 Tbsp. margarine
Salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make crust: use ½ of crust to cover bottom and sides of pie plate. Use the other half of dough to make top crust. Place chicken on bottom crust in pie plate. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, flour and dot with margarine. Cover with top crust and seal. Cut a few slits in top to allow steam to escape. Pie may be frozen at this point. When ready to bake, put pie plate on cookie sheet; it will brown better. Bake pie 45 minutes to 1 hour or until brown and bubbly. If you like, thicken broth with a little flour, salt and pepper to make gravy, to serve with pie. If you freeze the pie and want to serve it without thawing, place as above in a 400 degree oven for 1-1/4 hours.
The name of the cookbook is Dinner on the Ground. The Walnut Cove Primitive Baptists have published several editions over the years. The cookbook is full of recipes fitting for the traditional dinners on the ground that follow their baptisms and foot washings.
Chicken pies are the cookbook’s strong suit. The cookbook has six—count them, six—different recipes for chicken pie. Other interesting recipes are Mattie Haggard’s tomato dumplings and Marta Hutchens’ Autumn Pumpkin Cake. There’s also a recipe for communion wafers and three recipes for communion wine. You won’t find those recipes in just any cookbook.
You can purchase a copy of Dinner on the Ground at Priddy’s General Store, 2 miles east of Danbury, corner of Sheppard Mill Road and Pleasant View Church Road. The store is worth a trip anyway. Established in 1888, Priddy’s has pretty much everything in the world—clothes, dry goods, hardware, cookware, candy, homemade baked goods, what-nots and more. You can get country hams, local honey and molasses, and, in season, the sweet potatoes for which Stokes County is famous. We bought some wonderful local tomatoes there.
October is an especially good time to visit Priddy’s. The store hosts bluegrass concerts—“Picking at Priddy’s”—every Saturday from 3 to 5:30 PM, as well as the first Saturday in November.
That would be a good time to talk to Jane Priddy-Charleville, the store’s proprietor, too. (See photo.) In addition to being the third-generation Priddy to run the store, she’s Danbury’s mayor. She’s a wonderful guide to local sites, including good swim holes. Mayor Priddy-Charleville told us to be sure to bring a chair and an appetite if we come back for “Picking at Priddy’s.” Apparently there’s always a stew simmering in a big black pot in the back of the store.