McElroy House Pie Sale: Stories from Two Sisters

 Image donated by Denis Taylor. From back: Freamon, Thelma, Freda Kay Martin Cossey, Bettye Martin, Eddie Martin, Denise Taylor & Donnie Joe Martin, circa 1990.

Image donated by Denis Taylor. From back: Freamon, Thelma, Freda Kay Martin Cossey, Bettye Martin, Eddie Martin, Denise Taylor & Donnie Joe Martin, circa 1990.


Next Saturday the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action will hold its first annual Harvest Walk/Run beginning at 10:00 a.m. at the Russellville Depot. If you didn’t pre-register you can still sign up the day of the event. There’s no need to be a runner to take part. This is a community walk for all ages!

Regardless if you make it for the walk, you can come join us for the run’s after party, which will feature booths from several area organizations including the Russellville Baby Wearers, Arkansas Master Naturalists, a local honey and mead maker, heirloom chicken growers, children advocacy groups, and more. Bo Bennett of Garden Press Juice Company will be on hand making fresh pressed apple juice from regionally grown heirloom Arkansas Black Apples. And the Artists Laboratory Theatre will be coming down from Fayetteville to host a free roundtable workshop with participants discussing the question, “What makes this place home?”

 We’ll also hold our second annual pie sale featuring pie makers from all around the region. When you purchase one of the pies you get to learn about the pie makers, including how they learned to cook, anything their willing to share about their recipe or ingredients, and some of the stories that highlight why pie making is important to them. Last year we held our first pie sale at the Russellville Community Market and sisters Freda Martin Cossey and Denise Taylor of Dardanelle both signed up to make pies. Unbeknownst to them and without any discussion between the sisters, they both chose to make their family’s sweet potato pie. Their pies were a hit at the pie sale, and I asked them if they’d be willing to share a little bit about their late mother and father who taught them both how to cook so many years ago.

Denise Taylor says that both their mother and father worked in the kitchen. Her father was known for his cornbread and beef stew. “He was an equally good cook when it wasn’t commonplace to find a man in the kitchen. He actually took over the household cooking in mother’s last couple of years of life, due to her failing health,” Taylor writes. She recalled one of the last canning projects she and her mother completed together, canning peaches and tomato juice during the summer of 2005. “ I still have the last jar of peaches. I just couldn’t bring myself to open them. She would scold me for wasting them, but I just couldn’t bear not having them to preserve the memory,” she says. “They’re both gone now, but they left a legacy of good cooks in their children & grandchildren. We learned from the best!”

“Being the oldest of five,” writes Freda, “I was given cooking duties pretty early in life. When I was 12, I was put in charge of the the younger kids and some basic cooking while Mother and younger sister, Bettye, took care of chickens nearby.” She says her family “canned tomatoes, green beans, shelled beans, beets, blackberries, peaches, peas, corn, jams and jellies” and made a delicious vegetable soup. Cooking, says Cossey, is a connection to something much larger. “I would advise anyone to start teaching children to cook as soon as they express a desire to learn to cook. Let them begin to love it as a basic link to life.”

Denise and Freda are just two of the pie makers taking part in the event! Do you make pies? We’re still looking for more pie makers for the sale and we’d love to hear your stories and share them with the wider community! Visit and scroll down to the bottom of the page to click on information about making a pie for the sale. You can also find links to information about last year’s pie sale. The Harvest Walk/Run starts at 10:00 and the after party will begin around noon. To learn more about the after party and pie sale call me at 479-957-0551. To learn more about the run/walk call Marie Williams at 479-692-1511. Thanks so much for reading!

Also, learn more about last year’s pie sale here!! 


The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier newspaper in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.