My Christian Mother-in-Law (and a Strawberry Pie Recipe)

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I stood behind him as the door of the brown vintage refrigerator was opened. The most amazing thing I had ever seen outside of Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurant sat there on the lower metal shelf. The round red cold delight of pure confectionery perfection caused my mouth to water. I was suddenly speechless. The redness was topped with great piles of white and airy frothines.

The wholeness of the strawberry pie created a love for the baker I was yet to meet.

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As the pie was removed and cut, I surveyed the kitchen of this talented woman I would soon meet and grow to love.

Terry towels decorated each cabinet handle. They were held tight by fabric sewn to the top of the towel and buttoned closed with a huge flat pearly button that I instantly adored. The towels were well used and one was streaked with red. I knew the culprit for that stain….it was about to sit on the plate in front of me!

Tiny fruit magnets filled the top of the freezer on the outside, holding nothing, and yet I imagined they held mysterious foods if I dared open the refrigerator door.

The kitchen was rather dark, filled with the smells of loving foods that someone prepared often. I was unable to discern exactly what they were but I knew I would feast like a queen that special weekend. A weekend that would be imprinted in my memory forever.

I gazed out the window and my eyes saw the ancients of found and collected items from years gone by. A pair of blue rubber baby booties tied together minus the squeaker were hanging from the window lock, a tiny doll missing her clothes but with wide eyes and thick blonde hair took me back to my childhood. I had one of those! A plant in a duck planter missing most of it’s paint sported a plant that wound it’s way around the window as if seeking freedom to the sunlight outside.

My mind is amiss at the other bric a brac in the window but I do remember it was full with things that were loved and attachment was great.

My wandering eyes landed on shelves at the end of the cabinet bar and stored away where planters missing their calling. I looked at each one and fell in love with their form and finish of glossiness.

Across the room an old black phone hung on the wall with it’s tangled mess of coiled cord while a thin and used phone book was attached with a string to somewhere beyond the back. I needed to call home and as I picked up the receiver I heard someone talking. Ahhh, a party line! My grandmother had one of these! A phone line in those days was shared with multiple families and so I was to wait my turn. Everyone on the road would know a visitor was at the farm for the weekend!

The afternoon treat was cut, sweet tea poured from a massive dark brown Tupperware pitcher and we were ready.

I was right about the pie, it was pure frigid magic in my mouth and as I savored each bite I glanced at the pie. I knew I could eat the entire confection in one sitting but guests from the city wouldn’t think of such a thing! No sir! I would slowly and methodically eat my piece rather that behave like a hungry dog grasping for the next bite!

Suddenly, the baker arrived! She was taller than me, had a smile that reached to my mine, a hug that tightened around my upper body like a cobra and I’ll never forget her words….

“Hi, doll! I’m glad you are here! You sure are a pretty thing!”

I fell instantly in love. I don’t know if it was the pie, the hug or the home but I was drawn to this place like a lightening bug to a pole light! I knew I had found a friend for life and I wasn’t planning on letting her go!

She worked around that kitchen with the command of an officer on a ship and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. The pots were well loved but shiny clean, the bowls were beautifully chipped on the edges, the melamine plates were familiar and the assortment of stainless was amazing. She pulled it off like a pro and the food that landed in each bowl swam in butter, lard, sugar and the best of every cook’s stash.

I didn’t think heaven could compete with the smells circling this place of comfort.

There were four bar stools. I had no idea where to sit but it didn’t take long to see where habits long embraced were fastened. I was to sit across from her.

As the four of us sat, she began to pray without warning. Her head bowed as did all of ours. “Our dear heavenly Father, we do thank you for this day……”. I have long since forgotten the words to this sacred prayer but I was mesmerized at her take charge of everything personality. It was like bacon and eggs, peas and carrots and mashed potatoes and gravy. Her personality was larger than life and I was speechless!

Dinner completed, she scraped and organized and piled the dishes and unending pots and pans across the counter. It surely looked like everything in the cabinets had contained yummy goodness and now it was to be washed and repeated in the morning.

I was permitted to help. The dishes were well used, nothing out of the ordinary but with helping, I knew I had been accepted.

Accepted. I needed that. I was nineteen, finding my way through college curriculum that bloomed with a world of possibility and right in the midst of needing acceptance and figuring out what I was going to do with my life….I was in love. Oh, not romantic love, love that roots immediately and runs deep within.

Yes, smack dab in love when I wasn’t expecting a thing.

This new friend was amazing grace and we hit it off quickly. I asked questions and the education began. She knew. She was wise. She was generous. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to make strawberry confections and fill bowls with food that easily made beauty upon a plate. I wanted to have beautiful flowers in old mason jars and tin coffee pots. I wanted my own hoe for a garden. I needed this. I needed her. I needed the kind of love she had to share.

I fell in love with her before I fell in love with him!

She was my mother in law.

I loved her all of her days.

Whenever Mother’s Day approaches, I warmly think of the years we were blessed to share. The memories, the work made light side by side, the sound of her whistle as she worked, the way she sang way off key and the mighty prayers she prayed thanking God for all He had given to her.

Do I miss her? Yes, indeed. Would I want her back? No. She was a faithful servant, and as much as I desire one more day and one more strawberry pie, I want her to live eternally with the One she loved most, her Savior.

My, oh my, what a life well lived….

There were no recipes or a box of recipes so these are her words of ingredients as I watched her cook.

Mamaw rarely bought groceries as everything was raised on the farm. Even the strawberries for the pie were grown in long rows, picked, cleaned and frozen for later. But she’d always say:

“Now, honey, you can do that just like I did!”

And I pass on those words to you!

Mamaw’s Strawberry Pie Recipe


  • Pie Crust
  • 1 and a half heaping cup of flour
  • 3 tablespoons of lard or Crisco, enough to make it feel like meal
  • Strawberry Pie
  • 1 cup and half of a cup of sugar
  • Quarter cup of cornstarch or a tad more if you want it thicker
  • 1 quart strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • Topping
  • Pint of Heavy Cream


  1. Pie Crust Directions
  2. Mix with a fork
  3. Add small dabs of water, just enough to hold the dough together.
  4. Divide dough in half.
  5. Roll half into pie crust, put in pie pan.
  6. Remove from oven and cool.
  7. Place the other half of dough in plastic and keep in refrigerator until next pie.
  8. Strawberry Pie
  9. Mix all together, pour into pie crust
  10. Dot with butter, that makes it good!
  11. Bake for 35-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
  12. Cool on counter and then into refrigerator to get real nice and cold.
  13. Topping
  14. Beat a pint of heavy cream with mixer until thick.
  15. Pour onto cold pie.
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Mary Custer

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