Mr. Lovell Brooks’ store was just down the street from where my grandparents lived in the Cotton Mill Village in Geneva, AL. It was an old-timey store where my grandparents, Payton and Virginia Phillips, ”traded” as Granddaddy called it, for no telling how many years. Mr. Brooks was there before the retail grocery stores came to town. He beat the Piggly Wiggly and the IGA. My grandparents were loyal to Mr. Brooks and his store, whose fate is unclear to me. My hunch is that the retail chains probably forced the closing of his store, either single-handedly or in conjunction with his health and advancing age.
A favorite story of mine involving Granddaddy also includes Mr. Brooks. After we arrived home from “trading” with Mr. Brooks, something prompted Granddaddy to count his money. Responding to the look of sheer puzzlement on his face, Granny asked what was wrong. He pondered and pondered and finally said, “I just sho’ think they made a mistake in countin’ out my change. I come away with $1.65 cents more than I should of.” Each of you can silently decide how you might handle this moral dilemma. Granddaddy handled it in only the way his character would allow–he promptly got back in his car, drove to Mr. Brooks’ store and returned the $1.65. That’s the stock from which I’m made.
Unfortunately, I have only been able to come up with one photo of Mr. Brooks’ store . The picture below, from the 1950s, is of Sara Hatcher Hundley and Faye Riley Owens taken inside the store. Sara, right, was related to Mr. Brooks.
I will have to rely on my mind’s eye to take you on a virtual tour. Let’s hope the lens isn’t covered with cobwebs.
The store was located on the part of the main highway that was pretty close to town, the kind of downtown common to small towns where you park at an angle in front of the stores. It was a small store with parking for only a few cars in front. My recollection of a wooden facade and a single gas pump might not be entirely accurate. But that’s how I remember it, nonetheless. As you entered the front door, you just about ran smack dab into the checkout counter that housed the single cash register. Behind the cash register were shelves that contained items such as stick candy. Below is a candy jar that Granny and Granddaddy got for me from Mr. Brooks. Different flavors of stick candy, such as peppermint and perhaps orange and lemon, were in the jar. I mostly remember the peppermint.
The shelves behind the cash register held other things, too. Maybe tobacco products. Maybe Goody Powders and black plastic combs. I only need to remember the stick candy.
To the right was a freezer chest that contained ice cream bars and popsicles. I had one or two ice creams from this freezer chest. You pulled up the top and freezing sweet-smelling air rushed at you. So refreshing on a hot, humid Alabama summer day. If there was a “Coca-Cola” machine, I can’t picture it in my mind but it probably would have been here, too. And it would have those little 6 1/2 ounce bottles. There were a few aisles throughout the store where various food items were shelved. The very back of the store contained the meat counter. You selected your meat from the cuts on display and had them packaged. I don’t remember how much inventory this store had in the way of hardware items. That may have been on the left of the store away from the stuff that I cared anything about. But, back in the store was another case for dairy and frozen food. In that case is where we got these little frozen pies that we were crazy about. There were three flavors–lemon, coconut and chocolate. We would never buy chocolate because Granny didn’t like chocolate. We made up for it with the consumption of the lemon and coconut pies, though. The brand name of these little frozen pies is lost in my mind and I just can’t seem to find where it’s filed. It seems to me the pies were smaller than a regular 9-inch pie. The flavor of the pies wasn’t remarkable, but the sweetness of the memory is overwhelming. We would make special trips to the store just to buy these pies. They were a treat.
The recollection of one of those pie buying trips has forever stayed with me. Granddaddy and I went by ourselves to buy a lemon frozen pie. That was the sole purpose of the trip. We brought the pie home, sat at their little enamel kitchen table, under a pull-string light that hung down from the ceiling, and ate the whole pie. Just Granddaddy and me. I’m not sure where Granny and my two sisters were, but they were nowhere around this pie eating session. Just Granddaddy and me. Parts of the conversation, if it even existed, aren’t vivid in my memory. Granddaddy may have said, “This little pie sho’ is good, ain’t it, Jack?” I would have answered, “Yes sir!”. The words, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. What mattered was the moment with my Granddaddy. My sweet, quiet, unassuming Granddaddy. Later that day, Granny was looking for the pie that she knew we purchased and brought home. She was bumfuzzled and wanted to know, “Just where is that pie?” Oh, brother! I was going to let Granddaddy handle this one! He said, “We did buy it and Jack and me ate the whole thing.” Oh, lawd! She came out guns a-blazin’. She fumed and fussed and fumed and fussed some more. Granddaddy just laughed at her in his sweet little quiet way. I’m not sure Granny ever got over this because we heard about it for years….and years. She certainly never heeded her own admonition to us, “You better get glad in the same britches you got mad.” Every time the subject was brought up by her (we surely didn’t bring it up), she would fuss and fume and Granddaddy would laugh in his sweet little quiet way again. When Mr. Brooks bought those little frozen pies to sell in his store, he had no idea he was shaping the life of a little girl who would grow up, write a story about them, turn off her computer, and cry.
The pie in the story wasn’t a Lemon Icebox Pie but it’s similar. That little frozen pie had a lemon filling and some type of cream topping and it probably had a graham cracker crust. Lemon Icebox Pie is the one dessert that may be most closely associated with Southern cuisine. Well that and Red Velvet cake… and Coconut Cake…and Pecan Pie…don’t forget Lane Cake. There are several steps but none are complicated. You may substitute a prepared graham cracker crust, but I like to nestle the vanilla wafers into the soft crust and then brown it. The difference in the flavor is worth the effort to me.
How to make Old-Fashioned Lemon Icebox Pie:
Make the graham cracker crust by crushing 16 squares of graham crackers. That’s one little package of the crackers. And I get to use my mini food processor! This is one of the neatest kitchen gadgets I own. It is made by Cuisinart and, in addition to the mini processor, it has a whisk and an immersion blender. Love it!
Add melted butter and place in pie pan and form crust. I use the bottom of the butter melting cup just to help form the sides.
Next, gently moosh the vanilla wafers into the side of the crust and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool.
Whisk together egg yolks, lemon juice and sweetened condensed milk. Pour into pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
Mix egg whites, sugar and vanilla for meringue topping. Spread evenly over pie. The hand mixer is a General Electric avocado green that was given to me as a wedding gift 35 years ago. I’ve had it longer than I’ve had my children. Actually, I’ve had it longer than I’ve had my husband!
Form swirls and peaks in meringue and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
Get the handy print page and save this to your recipe box here:
Old Fashioned Lemon Icebox Pie.
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You have just almost perfectly described my Aunt Elsie’s store in Selma, Alabama. I’m pretty sure my cousins have an old video done on the last day of business–I’ve got to call and see if I can get a copy. And those pies, I think the brand name was Morton. I can’t tell you how many we ate (the chocolate was my favorite). I might not care for them now, but they sure were good in those hot, humid Alabama summers. Thanks for reviving some wonderful memories.
On March 8, 2011 at 6:09 am
Mmmmm….Mom used to make a lemon meringue pie. Haven’t had one in many years. Thank you, will work on making my own 🙂
Wonderful post S&B! Welcome!
On March 8, 2011 at 7:49 am
On March 8, 2011 at 8:20 am
Syrup and Biscuits says:
@Judydee: Thank you for your comments. So glad I could help you stir up some sweet memories. I think the brand of pie was Morton, also. Someone who read my blog post on my website left that comment and it seems right. I would love to see the video of your aunt’s store! @CindyP: Thanks! I’m glad to be here. Hope you enjoy the pie. @Larissa: It is good. You should make one. Let me know how it turns out.
On March 8, 2011 at 9:06 am
Sure brings back memories of the little store we had in town when I was a kid! The difference was that there was no (or a bare minimum) of precut meats. The butcher (the store owner) cut everything to order, including the ground meats. The customer simply went straight back to him to place an order, then went about picking up other things, or stood there chatting as he cut your order.
It was with much angst that Mom finally started picking up a few things from the “big” store in the next town because it was so much cheaper. She continued buying all meat from the little store until it finally closed it’s doors.
On March 8, 2011 at 9:14 am
Syrup and Biscuits says:
@Pete: I’m so glad we have those happy small town memories of a bygone era.
On March 8, 2011 at 9:21 am
I remember those stores. We had one close enough that I could walk to it. I could get a slice of bologna and a slice of cheese and sit down on the rock wall outside the store and eat it. I still can remember the smell when you walked in the store. It was a musty, woody smell, but it smelled good and I miss it. There will never be those kinds of stores again. I can remember at age 8, going to pick up my Dad’s pipe tobacco. You sure couldn’t do that now days! I was thrilled when he gave me enough to get a piece of candy too. Sometimes, instead of the candy, I would have the store guy (never knew his name) reach in the big jar and give me a giant pickle – that usually lasted me an entire afternoon. One thing I DO remember, the owners lived either upstairs from the store or behind it and it was CLOSED on Sunday!
On March 8, 2011 at 10:09 am
That pie looks so good…saving the recipe in my recipe box to try later. I wish we still had the country stores.
On March 8, 2011 at 10:47 am
Great descriptions S&B. I’d surely recognize it if it still existed. …and that enameled kitchen table, white with red (or green) trim?
On March 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm
Loved reading your story! Thanks so much for sharing.
On March 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm
Kathi N says:
I really enjoyed your post. It helped me remember going to the hardware store with my Grandpa. Thank you!
On March 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm
Your story made me laugh, thanks for sharing your memories.(i never had grandparents, no memories of that kind for me)
And that pie…if I get a hold of my hubby who is in the city right now to bring me vanilla waffles.I know what dessert we have tonight.
It looks soooooo good.
On March 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm
I still have one of those avocado green hand mixers too! Go it in the 1970’s. It’s still going strong.
Love your memories of the old country store. Wish they were still around today.
I will certainly try your pie recipe…sounds yummy! I like the idea of the vanilla wafers around the edge of the crust, never heard of that before.
Thanks for posting this!
On March 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm
It’s true that they don’t make em like they used to. I bought a hand mixer last year to make Christmas cookies, and it broke this year while I was making Christmas cookies! Lovely recipe, thank you!
On March 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm
Very good story, S&B. Enjoyed it all, especially your last word. Share. That is my motto, food is better when shared.
On March 8, 2011 at 7:32 pm
Syrup and Biscuits says:
Thank you, everyone, for the kind sweet words. I’m so glad you enjoyed my story of a very happy memory. I blog about goodness in food, people and memories. @Bonita: their enamel table was black and white. I’ve seen the ones you described and I love them. My daughter has one trimmed in green.
On March 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm
Miss Judy says:
So many memories. Those little general stores are some of my first clear memories.Candy bars were a nickle and so was a bottle of soda pop!
I made my first pie for my Grandad…it was a cherry pie…on George Washingtons birthday. I was only 13 and my mom and dad were out of town. It was a disaster! Nasty tough, hard crust! Grandad didn’t have any teeth…but he tried to eat it! Finally he chuckled and said ” you don’t happen to have George’s hatchet do you?” My brothers and I laughed until we cried.
Thanks for such a nice post.
On March 8, 2011 at 9:48 pm
Cathy Jones (catray44) says:
I loved this post. I miss my grandmothers very much, and my grandpa. I miss that tiny town my family is from. Thank you for writing this! It kicked up a lot of similar memories.
On March 8, 2011 at 9:59 pm
Syrup and Biscuits says:
@Judy: What a great story about the cherry pie? Your Grandad had quite a wit. @Cathy: thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad you like the post. I still have a few stories in my back pocket! 🙂
On March 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm
Jeannie Brazell says:
It amazes me that no matter what part of the country we are from, we all have memories of the same old timey store. I miss the days when you knew the people who owned the stores and pharmacy where you shopped.
On March 14, 2011 at 11:42 am
Liz Pike says:
Here’s a great history of Morton products, and yes they did do a great cream pie!
On June 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm