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The President’s Pie

One hundred years ago this week a Westfield woman secured her 15 minutes of fame — not by saving someone from a burning building or anything like that, but by baking a pie!

The story actually began a few months earlier in February when Indiana Senator Harry S. New and his wife came to Noblesville at the beginning of his reelection campaign.

While the Senator spoke to the Noblesville Kiwanis Club at a luncheon at the Houston Hotel, his wife was the guest of honor at a reception given by the county Republican women’s organization.

During the reception, Mrs. New entertained the women with stories of her personal acquaintance with President Warren G. Harding and she happened to mention Harding’s fondness for crumb pie.

Noting that she’d often heard the President, a fellow Midwesterner, express the wish he could find a woman who made crumb pies like his grandmother used to bake, she asked if anyone present had a special recipe for that kind of pie.

One of the women, Mrs. Mary Moore, shyly admitted that she’d made many crumb pies and, after some prodding from Mrs. New, she agreed to bake one for the President.

Voilà, a star was born!

Newspapers all over the country picked up the story of Mrs. Moore and her pie. Some of the articles even included the photo of Mrs. Moore standing outside her Westfield home, wooden rolling pin in hand, that had accompanied a Noblesville Daily Ledger story.

Because arrangements were made for Senator and Mrs. New to personally deliver the pie to the President, Mrs. Moore didn’t actually fulfill her pledge until the News returned to Washington three months later.

When she finally got down to business, she baked two pies — one for President Harding and a second for Senator and Mrs. New, “so they could tell how it tasted while it was fresh.”

I’d never heard of crumb pie, so I did a little research online to see what Mrs. Moore’s pie would have been like.

I’m still not sure, however, because I discovered several different variations of “crumb pie” exist. One version is made with molasses, like Pennsylvania Dutch shoofly pie, while another has more of a custard base. And there were others.

The newspapers pestered Mrs. Moore for her recipe, but she declined to share her special “formula” with them. All she’d reveal publicly was that it was crucial for the bread crumbs to be homemade and the sugar to be a certain kind.

(She did, however, tell the Ledger that “persons sufficiently interested” could “apply to her personally” for the recipe.)

I came across this recipe in the February 27, 1922 Elwood Call-Leader. I can’t say it’s what Mrs. Moore’s pie was like, but geographically and time-wise, it was the closest I could find.

Crumb Pie

Line a baking dish with pastry. Beat four egg yolks with three-fourths of a cup of sugar, add the grated rind and juice of an orange, one cup each of finely chopped walnuts and bread crumbs, one-half teaspoonful each of grated nutmeg, cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and ginger with two teaspoons of baking powder and the whites of two eggs, beaten until stiff. Mix and pour into the shell. Bake in a moderate oven (350-375 degrees) until firm.

With so much advance publicity, I expected the Ledger to print some kind of follow-up story after President Harding got his pie, but all I could find was a mention in Mrs. Moore’s 1932 obituary that she’d received a thank you letter from the President for her effort.

I guess her 15 minutes of fame had already run its course.

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com