A Slice of American Life from the FSA/OWI Photograph Collection

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Thanksgiving in America is pie’s time to shine, as one or more of these delightful desserts often provide the sweet finish to Thanksgiving feasts across the country. Depending on where you live or your family hails from, the pies could contain pecan, sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, or a wide variety of other delicious fillings.

The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) collection includes photo stories in which the photographer captures a simple task of daily life, sometimes taking a series of photographs of the steps it takes to complete it. Two photo series I found illustrate the everyday task of making a pie, offering visual insight into life in the 1930s and 1940s, and a chance to observe if anything has changed in the intervening decades! As I plot my pie plan for next week, I’ll share these two stories of pie making from the FSA/OWI collection below.

Mary Mutz of Moreno Valley, California puts together an apple pie through five photos, from filling the pie crust, adding the top crust, trimming and crimping it, sprinkling sugar on top and baking the pie. The negatives aren’t always numbered in order so it’s important to look closely when putting together the sequence, as seen here:

Mary Mutz makes an apple pie.

Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico. Mary Mutz makes an apple pie. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1943 Feb. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d26280

Photo shows Mary Mutz making an apple pie.

Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico. Mary Mutz making an apple pie on the Mutz ranch. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1943 Feb. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d26279

Mary Mutz making an apple pie on the Mutz ranch

Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico. Mary Mutz making an apple pie on the Mutz ranch. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1943 Feb. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d26282

Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico. Mary Mutz making an apple pie on the Mutz ranch. Photo by John, Collier, Jr., 1943 Feb. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d26281

Mary Mutz baking an apple pie on the ranch

Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico. Mary Mutz baking an apple pie on the ranch. Photo by John Collier, Jr., 1943 Feb. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d26286

Other photos of the Mutz family by photographer John Collier, Jr. document family meals, chores, the livestock on their ranch, their home and other aspects of life on a second generation family-run cattle ranch.

In a November 1939 visit to a commercial bakery in San Angelo, Texas, photographer Russell Lee shows bakery staff making dough, shaping rolls, baking and slicing bread, and yes, making two different size pies. Unlike Mary Mutz, they are focused on producing many pies, perhaps for Thanksgiving, not just one to grace the family dinner table. Where she scooped apple pie filling from a pot on the stove, these two photos show a worker cutting up pumpkin for one type of pie and two men making a different filling on a larger scale. (Clearly the bowl on the right is hot, as the man is using potholders as he pours it, suggesting a pre-cooked filling.)

Cutting up pumpkin for pies. Bakery, San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 Nov. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23669

Bakers making filling for pies. San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 Nov. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23684

Here, two of the bakers prepare pie crust on their large worktable, and we can see two stacks of pie tins waiting to be filled, larger ones in the foreground and a precarious stack of smaller ones at the back of the table.

Making pie crusts. Bakery, San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 Nov. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23599

The production line work continues, as they fill those empty tins with crust and a third person adds filling. At least two kinds of pies are being made at the same time, based on the color difference in the visible fillings. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the finished products or the happy customers who bought these treats!

Making and putting pie crusts into pie pans. Bakery, San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 Nov. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23585

Making pies. Rolling crusts and filling them at bakery at San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 Nov. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23573

Whether you bake it or buy it, here’s hoping a delicious pie or two is part of your Thanksgiving table. As you can see in the two photos below, from roughly fifty years apart, a pie is always a crowd pleaser!

Cutting the pies and cakes at the barbeque dinner, Pie Town, New Mexico Fair. Photo by Russell Lee, 1940 Oct. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a34137

Cakes and pies line the tables at a family reunion in Mayodan, North Carolina. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.15735

Learn More:

from Picture This: Library of Congress Prints & Photos https://blogs.loc.gov/picturethis/2021/11/a-slice-of-american-life-from-the-fsa-owi-photograph-collection/

By Håkan Dahlström

Hi! I am Håkan. I am the author of this website. I work with IT and photography is my hobby. I also like to travel and cooking. Living in Malmö, Sweden.

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