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Peggy Lynn has a song about a fictional cook at an Adirondack logging camp called "Big Belle."
Big Belle, they say she came from Montreal.
Big Belle, she broke up every bunkhouse brawl.
She was broad in the beam and buxom.
She had a beautiful gap-toothed smile.
She used her rolling pin to keep the peace
When the logging camp went wild.
This is the story Big Belle told on the first evening of every logging season. The loggers would be busy eating their supper of 10 eggs per man, lots of fried salt pork, countless loaves of fresh bread and a really large pot of baked beans, and ending up with apple pie, all spicy and juicy and bubbling.
BIG BELLE: Boys, welcome to this camp. My name is Big Belle. I've been cooking in logging camps for some time, and I have 4 rules.
My first rule is: Come running when I ring the bell for the meals. You did pretty well on that tonight. The second is: eat quick and leave. I've got a lot of work to do and I don't want you dawdling over the food. The third is: if you complain about my cooking, you'll do the cooking for the whole camp for a whole month.
Now I used to just have the 3 rules. But then Charlie here showed up at camp, about 10 years ago, isn't that right, Charlie?
CHARLIE: Yup, Big Belle, that's about right.
BIG BELLE: And because of Charlie, there's a 4th rule. It was near the end of that season, and, well, Charlie, why don't you tell the boys how this started?
CHARLIE: Sure, Big Belle. You see, boys, like Big Belle said, it was near the end of the season, maybe 4 weeks left. It was cold, real cold. The trees were hard and the saws were dull. And nobody was laughing anymore. They'd heard all my jokes too often, and all my stories too often.
And it was a bad year too. A couple of the boys had gotten killed by widow makers, those big limbs that get stuck in the treetops, and when we cut down the tree, those limbs come flying at us out of nowhere... Two boys, good loggers, had been killed that February. We were waiting for the spring to bury them...
So nobody was laughing and I decided to make them laugh.
Now Big Belle is a mighty fine woman and a damn fine cook. I try to find out what camp she's going to be in each year just so I can sign on with that camp and eat more of her tasty cooking.
Boys, those of you who are new here, you'll find out she also has a great sense of humor, about everything except her cooking. She has absolutely no sense of humor about that. She's especially proud of her apple pie. Did you notice how as you came in tonight, you could smell her pies, all spicy with cinnamon? She make a damn fine apple pie, and Big Belle knows it.
So one night, when her back was turned, I took a big bite of apple pie then made this choking-gagging face. Everybody laughed, except Big Belle.
BIG BELLE: I whipped around, trying to see what was up. And there was Charlie, looking as innocent as a choirboy with firecrackers in his pocket. So I kept my eye on Charlie, and a few days later, I caught him making that face.
So I pounced on him and said, "Charlie, you've been complaining about my cooking. That's rule number 3. Now you have to do the cooking for the whole camp for a whole month."
CHARLIE: "Uh uhn, Big Belle. I didn't do any complaining. Complaining means talking, and I didn't say a word, now did I?"
BIG BELLE: Well, he had me there, boys. So I sputtered a bit, and then huffed off to my stove. But I kept thinking about how I was going to fix Charlie. It took me till the next afternoon, while I was making the pies, to remember my grandma's special recipe for mincemeat pie.
I bundled up in extra sweaters and my coat and shawl, went outside and put on my snowshoes. Then I went over the edge of the woods, where the moose had been in the fall and dug way down into the snow with my shovel till I found just what I was looking for. Some nice dried up moose turds. I shoveled some up into my bucket and hurried back inside, with my buried treasure.
After being outside, my kitchen felt really warm. I got out a small pie tin, lined it with pie dough, then almost filled it with those dried up moose turds. I covered those with about 1/2" of mincemeat, then added the top crust, crimping the edges just the way my grandma had taught me.
Then I got my carving knife, to cut the steam vent, and carved a big C in the top, for Charlie.
At supper, when I was serving the apple pie, I said real sweet to Charlie, "Now, Charlie, don't you go taking any of that ordinary apple pie. I made a special pie, just for you, using my grandma's special mincemeat pie recipe. I wanted to show you just what I could do with my cooking when I put my mind to it."
CHARLIE: So Big Belle cut me a piece and I took a big bite, then spit it out. "God dang, Big Belle! That's moose turd pie! But, but, but -- it's dang tasty!"
BIG BELLE: Well, Charlie's quick tongue had saved him again. But I've got a quick mind. So I looked him in the eye and said, "Charlie, just because of you, I'm making a new rule, number four, right here and now. Listen up, boys. Rule four is if I catch any of you making faces about my cooking, I'm going to serve the whole camp one of my grandma's special recipes. You see, boys, she had lots of special recipes, one for venison stew, and another for raisin pudding, and, of course, one for baked beans. We have baked beans every night, don't we, boys?"
No one broke rule number four that season.
Hey Charlie, have you ever broken rule number four since then?
CHARLIE: No, ma'am. One bite of your grandma's special cooking was enough for me. I can always think of other ways to make the boys laugh.
BIG BELLE: That you can, Charlie, that you can.
So boys, welcome to camp. Remember my FOUR rules and we'll all do just fine.
It may be 10 years later, but I still remember ALL of my grandma's special recipes.
Many, many storytellers, including Utah Phillips, tell their own flavor of moose turd pie.
Copyright © 2003 Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.