In my search for pie-related authors to partner with for Pie-Palooza 2017, I found Mollie Bryan, author of Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies. The disconnect between the author’s name and the book’s title made me curious, so I contacted Ms. Bryan and asked her if she would be open to an interview for this event. She agreed and you can read on to discover the answer to the mystery.
Who is Mrs. Rowe?
Carma’s Cookery: Your name isn’t “Mrs. Rowe.” Who is she and why is her name on your book?
Mollie Bryan: Mrs. Rowe is the name of the woman who owned a very successful restaurant in Staunton, Va. The restaurant is about 80 years old now and is still going strong — even though she passed away several years ago. Her family still runs it.
A Bit About Southern Cuisine
CC: How do you define “Southern hospitality”?
MB: I’m not sure I think Southern hospitality is any different than any other kind. I think it’s a kind of myth. I’ve been treated with kindness as a visitor all over the world — Paris, Munich, New York City. I think the hospitality thing depends on the person or the community you are visiting. It’s all a part of that sort of cozy myth we have about Southerners. They are a diverse group. Some are friendly and hospitable. Some are not.
CC: Why are pies such a part of Southern cuisine?
MB: I think pie became popular in the south in the early days because they didn’t need much refrigeration. With the hot southern summers, that was important. It’s also the reason southern pies are usually sweeter than other pies. At first, the sugar was used more as a preservative. Now, we crave sweet pies because that’s what we are used to.
CC: What makes a pie “Southern”?
MB: That’s good question. As I mentioned in the previous answer, Southern pies are usually sweeter. The authentic southern pie recipes always take more sugar. The other thing that distinguishes Southern pie is whatever fruit is local. So, in other words, something like pecans wouldn’t be grown in the North. So pecan pie became known as Southern.
CC: Do you have any special pie memories you’d like to share?
MB: My mom made extraordinary pumpkin pies every year for Thanksgiving. Nobody has ever been able to make one as good as her.
CC: Do you have any “secrets” of pie making you’d like to impart?
MB: Making pie should be fun. Don’t get caught up in perfection. A lot of folks are way too concerned about the crust and it prevents them from even trying. Some of the store-bought crusts are fine. And the trick to a good crust is to handle it as little as possible and keep it as cold as you can. Also, remember there are other kinds of crusts — cookie, graham, and so on.
What’s Next for Mollie Bryan?
MB: I was interested in Mrs. Rowe’s life story. She was a remarkable woman, really at the forefront of a lot of restaurant history, not to mention women’s history. Here was a woman who started a restaurant, after rather suddenly becoming a single mother, and made it very successful. It was unusual at the time to get good food on the road. Her spin on it was to make people feel at home — it was a new thing in the 1930s. So to tell her story, I thought a cookbook would be the best vehicle.
CC: Now that you no longer write cookbooks, do you miss writing about food?
MB: Even though I’ve moved on to writing mysteries, food is a central theme in most of them. You can’t write about Southern women without food being a big part of the story.
Create Your Own Unique Pie!
Does pie making daunt you? Are you wary of deviating from any pie-recipe you find, for fear that you’ll ruin the flavor of the resulting pie?
It doesn’t have to be that way!
Pie-Palooza 2017 is brought to you by Your Perfect Pie, a cookbook that breaks down pies into easily made component parts so you can unleash your pie-making creativity. Available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats. Grab your copy today and start creating your perfect pie!