by Joy Salyers
I don’t usually think of a gas station right off the interstate as the go-to place for regionally made treats. But the corner BP Station’s Family Fare Convenience Store by our Durham office stocks a surprising array of North Carolina food products, including pork skins from Henderson, and Apple Uglies from Salisbury.
They also have 89 cent fountain drinks, which I’ve been living on this hot summer. Last week when I stopped in for my fountain drink fix, I picked up a packaged fruit pie as well. The label said “B&G Handmade Peach Pie” and I hurried back to the office to give it a try.
As soon as I slipped it out of its wrapper, I said, “Oh, that’s made with lard!” It was clear this was no assembly-line Hostess product, but a real old-fashioned fried hand pie. The list of ingredients confirmed my guess – yes, that crust is made with lard.
The inside was not a gooey filling of stewed fruit in syrup; though it did have chunks of peaches in it,they were suspended in a filling so thick it was almost solid. It was also not teeth-achingly sweet, which is a rare find. B&G pies are made in Winston-Salem, and they come in five flavors – apple, cherry, lemon, peach, and chocolate. I stopped by the BP this morning to see if I could try another flavor, but they were down to just one pie, which was another peach. The manager told me he orders a box at a time, and they sell out pretty quick.
The Winston-Salem Journal did a nice feature on B&G Pies last year. Although they’ve been around since 1949 (as their logo will remind you) the company actually went out of business briefly in the late 1980s, when a new owner tried to automate the process of making the pies. It tickles me that the public knew a machine-made pie and wouldn’t have it! Sometimes things are just better the old-fashioned way. The feature article shares stories of folks remembering saving lunch money or skipping out of school to savor a B&G pie in childhood.
The best foods remind us of stories. And that’s one reason why I’m partial to fried pies in the first place. My grandfather was a coal miner in eastern Kentucky. Like all miners, he carried a compartmented lunch bucket to the mines. (The style of bucket varied; some looked like this example currently for sale on Ebay.) The bottom and largest compartment held water, because all you had was what you brought in with you. The middle compartment or tray held your lunch, and the top shallow compartment was for dessert. Miners’ wives often made fried pies for their husbands to take to the mines because they were easy to pick up and eat — my father often talks about the apple pies his mother made.
Most miners would lift out the top compartment containing their dessert and set it aside to eat last. But Grandpa would always start at the top and eat his way down. When his friends would tease him, he would retort, “Life is uncertain; eat dessert first.”
When a mine roof collapse broke his back, it both ended his mining career and proved his point. So when our family says (as we often do), “life is uncertain; eat dessert first,” what sounds like a frivolous excuse for immediate gratification is, to us, a poignant reminder to appreciate the little things, and not to postpone joy.