Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Social Snobbery delicately lampooned: “The underdone bottom of the uppercrust.” by Erwin A. Thompson

At dinnertime recently, my father recalled this story, and I asked him to share it with us. What follows is his author's note from his novel "The Upper Crust." ---JGR


An explanation of the title might be helpful. I was raised by three maiden aunts and my maternal grandfather. They had their own way of expressing things, which was always quite picturesque and also quite accurate!

When they were speaking of people who were a part of the top of the social scale they often referred to them as being a part of "the upper crust." I never questioned the origin of this expression at that time, but in later years I think it referred to a pie that was covered by a layer of crust on top of the peach, apple, rhubarb, or whatever kind of fruit was being used. This upper crust was a luxury. When someone acted as if they thought they were at the top of the social scale and really were not, my aunts said that they were "the underdone bottom of the uppercrust."

To properly understand this expression one needs to remember that in rural America in the nineteen twenties and thirties baking was not the exact science that it is today with electric and gas ranges on which the oven temperature can be controlled by the turn of the control knob. The oven temperature in the country kitchen range was regulated by the amount of split wood or coal that the cook (who was almost always also the "fire person") put into the fire box. The results thereof were governed by the skill of the cook. This was also sometimes further complicated by the wind, or a damp morning when the "draft" up the chimney would be affected considerably.

The upper crust of the pie was the last thing to get done, and sometimes it didn't!

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  1. Maybe only in the second half of the 20th C did pies usually have two crusts. It's a lot of work & double the good white lard to make one crust, let alone two and have it turn out pretty. Fruit on bottom plus one crust on top is often called a cobbler rather than a pie. Here's a fun link with the history of such ---

    One more consideration --- there is a humorous saying coined by the late folksinger and Wobbly, Utah Phillips. "The upper crust is a handful of crumbs held together in a wad of dough."

    Janet, thank you for bringing your own & your dad's words to the public. Both are wonderful. You two rock !

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