Baking pies keeps ‘Miz Dorothy’ young
By Sara Anne Corrigan

HENDERSON – It’s 9a.m. and Dorothy Edmonds, who has been at work since 7 a.m., is about up to her elbows in flour. She pulls small, baseball-sized pieces of dough from a huge bowl, kneads them lightly, dusts them with flour, rolls them out into thin circles and deftly fits them into the pie tins – the disposable, aluminum-foil kind – stacked on her work table. Quickly, she crimps the dough against the sides and around the edges of each tin. The crimp marks are exactly the size of her index finger. Each pie shell takes about 30 seconds to complete.
“I work all my dough by hand,” she says. “I like to feel it. I can tell by the touch when it’s right. You want a crust that’s not too wet. And not too much shortening. but enough to where the crust melts in your mouth.
“A bad crust is a bad pie,” she counsels.
“There’s not too many of us left that rolls dough out by hand. There’s not too many people my age still working,” says the 70-year-old Henderson native.
It’s the work that keeps her young, she says. “Everybody I know has gotten old except me.”
Edmonds has about three dozen pie shells done when she changes direction. A classic “dump cook,” she measures out four cups of sugar – sort of — then reaches into a large box of shortening, lifting out a large handful which she tosses into the mixing bowl with the sugar as she sets the machine in motion.
She breaks in eggs, a dozen or so including a few extra yolks, and pours in vanilla directly from a gallon jug. A couple of cans of evaporated milk and a spoonful of flour — sort of — are added as the machine is cranked up to high speed.
Edmonds fills the pie shells with this rich custardy concoction that, when baked, will yield classic chess pies. A culinary delicacy of the South. And, according to her customers, “Miz Dorothy’s pies” are the best money can buy. “I couldn’t give you a recipe,” she says, “unless maybe you hypnotized me.”
By 10:30 a.m. people are beginning to stop by her kitchen at D & M Foods at 702 N. Green St., looking for those pies. They are being boxed and sold while they are still too hot to touch. A regular customer stops at the deli counter and calls back to Edmonds in the kitchen wanting to know if she has any pecan pies today and when will they be ready?
Edmonds switched from chess to pecan pie filling about half an hour ago. The finished pecan pies will be ready in about 30 minutes, Edmonds calls back.
She works from a pecan chess pie recipe in her head. A recipe she says she learned as a teenager when she had her first job washing dishes at The Silver Ship Tea Room in Henderson. The cook’s name, she recalls, was “Miz Tippins.” “I never knew her first name.”
Edmonds will maintain her pace until 1 p.m. She works five days a week. “I don’t know how many pies I make every day. I never count ‘em.” she says, noting
that the number rises dramatically when special orders come in. “Church homecomings, family reunions, and deaths,” she explains. “That’s when people order pies.”
Edmonds bakes to fill special orders plus enough to satisfy customers at both of Henderson’s D & M Food Stores and the coffee shop at Community Methodist Hospital.
Edmonds says she bakes to survive.
“When my husband died I was 34 years old and I had three little children to raise and one of them had cerebral palsy. They didn’t have welfare back then. Nobody gave me anything. I had to work to feed my children. My first job was at the (former) Dixie Mart.
I made $12 a week. They gave me a pan, a spoon, and a fork to whip the egg whites and told me to start baking pies. Seven years a later I got my first mixer.
Edmonds has been baking pies for a living for better than 35 years, the last six at D & M Foods. In that time, her work has developed a reputation in Henderson County and among a number of pie devotees in Evansville as well. She says that former Henderson natives who come back for visits regularly come in to the store and buy her pies to take back home with them. “My pies have gone to Florida, Michigan, California … wherever a Henderson person has gone, my pies have gone with them.”
She surmises that they want to take back a taste of their mothers’ or grandmothers’ cooking.
“Old-fashioned pies. That’s all I make,” she says. “I’m an old-fashioned cook.”
Her repertoire is limited to chess pie and its variations: coconut chess pie, chocolate chess pie and pecan chess pie.
Fruit pies, meringue and cream pies round out the list, although she won’t make a cream pie in hot weather. “Food poisoning,” she explains.
The regular, old-fashioned Chess pie is the best seller, she says, adding that it is a dessert for which there are countless recipes. The pie has its roots in the colonial South.
“Back in slave times,” Edmonds explains. She notes the ingredients — flour, lard, sugar (or molasses) and milk and eggs — were readily available to slaves.
Edmonds learned to make chess pie by watching her mother.
“My pie is not quite as good as hers, but it’s as close as I can get,” she says. “I think about mama a lot when I’m making them.”


Evansville Press August 15, 1990