Gooseberry Pie and the 4th of July

Grandpa spent the 4th of July, 1918, “somewhere in France.”

France, 7-3:1 cropped 2

Letter to Grandma, written July 3, 1918.

He went on to explain that it wasn’t really a holiday for him, since the cooks still had to feed the troops. But he seemed happy to report that “some of the boys went out and gathered some gooseberries so made some pies. They were good. The gooseberries here are large, about like our plums and it don’t take long to get enough for a few pies.”



Gooseberry bushes, outside my mother’s apartment in Kansas.

Honestly, I don’t remember gooseberry pie from my childhood. Grandma made the best raspberry pie, so I know she (and my grandfather) could make the perfect crust and the perfect filling. But nothing fancy. Here’s the recipe for gooseberry pie Mother got from Grandma.

Gooseberry, 2Just where was Grandpa in France? He couldn’t tell Grandma. But I’ve been able to learn locations from later accounts, especially in George English’s History of the 89th Division, 1920. After leaving England (from Southampton, across the English Channel to Le Havre) in late June, the troops moved under the cover of darkness in box cars, a miserable train journey to what English called “unknown destinations.” They arrived near Reynel, and Grandpa’s group–the 356th Infantry–stayed with families in two villages, Liffol-le-Grand and Villouxel, both in the northeastern part of France, not far from the front. (pp. 42-44)

In this same letter from July 3, Grandpa explained his location, generally.

town in France

The reference to the little girl made me smile at a very special memory. In Effingham, Kansas, where I enjoyed summers with my grandparents, I was walking with Grandpa to their big garden. Just as we crossed the alley, a little boy came running, a big smile on his face, “Hi, Grandpa!” I was indignant and yelled right back, “He’s not your grandfather! He’s my grandfather!” Grandpa laughed. He loved telling that story. And so I can imagine a little French girl having the same affection for a man many of us thought of as Grandpa.

This one letter, written at a time between difficult travels and more difficult battles ahead, seems relaxed to me. Grandpa’s handwriting is neat and even. He covers four pages (a long letter for him) with details that remind me of letters my brother, sister and I wrote home from our trips in Europe. “There is lots of Cathedrals here,” he wrote. “I hear several bells ringing now.”

Back in King City, where Grandma celebrated the 4th of July, there was a daylong program of events, along with pies and refreshments and music. The local newspaper, the Chronicle, noted that a special feature would be included: “Bat the Kaiser in the Eye.” I’m not sure what that meant (a piñata? hit with a baseball bat?), but I do know that the people of  King City, and presumably of many American towns, spent some of their summer days raising money for a knock-out punch. Here’s an ad that ran the last week in June, featuring that target of the Kaiser’s eye.

Paste the Kaiser

King City Chronicle, June 28, 1918, page 3.

On this day in 2018, on the 4th of July, I’ll end where I started, with pies. Here’s my homage to Grandma, a raspberry-peach pie. And following that, a cartoon that captures the special fondness American soldiers had for pies, apparently never getting enough!

Pie on the 4th

Seconds on Pie

From Camp Funston’s newspaper, Trench and Camp, May 11, 1918. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Happy 4th!

3 thoughts on “Gooseberry Pie and the 4th of July

    • I really enjoyed this post. It is a wonderful mixture of thoughts concerning big events of life and the simple joys that bring happiness to us!


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