Pie Safe from Duke Homestead [1]

              For those who are unfamiliar, the history of Durham is rooted in Washington Duke, patriarch of the Duke Family and founder of the Duke Homestead. The Duke Homestead opened in 1852, and was home to Washington and his second wife Artelia, along with seven children from his first and second marriages. The Duke Homestead began as a piece of land given to him by his father-in-law, expanded upon by Washington’s own hard work to a working farm of about 300 acres. It is currently a historical landmark, with its buildings and grounds open to the public [2].

To access the Duke Homestead’s particular food story, it is interesting to note a pie safe that is still in the house to this day. We know that this pie safe is relevant to our time period due to the homestead’s opening date. The particular origin of the pie safe is unknown to us, but from the photo we can see it is painted a lovely green color with hints of the decorative markings that were quite common to pie safes during this time. A pie safe was, for all intents and purposes, a precursor to the first ice boxes. Often with tall legs designed to keep it off the floor, and tiny ventilation holes in the doors, the pie safe was designed to hold things such as pies and baked goods, meats, cheeses and so forth. In essence, the pie safe was a place that perishable things lived for a short time to be consumed with a fair amount of immediacy. The tall leg design was entirely practical, meant to keep bugs and vermin away from the food contained within [3].

We know that the Duke Homestead was a working farm, which eventually transitioned to growing a yellow tobacco also known as bright leaf. This particular varietal was discovered by a slave named Stephen in Caswell County around 1839 [4]. What is interesting to know about Washington’s farming of both food crops and then this infamous tobacco variety is that he did not own a great number of slaves. Historical texts do not give us an exact reason why, although it is supposed he could not afford them. However, in the context of our food story it is important to know that Washington Duke did own just one slave, by the name of Caroline Barnes [4].

Caroline Barnes was purchased by Duke Washington on October 15th, 1855 for $601.00 [5]. We lose track of her for around five years, but there are records of a hired housekeeper and cook named Caroline Barnes after the civil war. Aside from the possibility of Duke’s wife and only daughter, it is most likely that Caroline was the daily user of the pie safe that still stands in the Duke Homestead kitchen. We know from a notice of public sale that for a time at least, the Duke Homestead kept cows, hogs, grew oats and wheat [5]. In the kitchen, it is quite likely that Caroline made pies for the family with lard from the pigs they kept and kept salt pork in the pie safe for various uses. She remained with the family as their housekeeper into the 1920s. We may also assume that Caroline made a lasting impact on the family, or at the very least on Washington’s daughter Mary, as she left Caroline $500.00 in her will [6].

Vanessa Overdorf

[1] A Pie Safe from the Duke Family. November 28, 2005. Cultural Heritage Institutions of North Carolina, NC ECHO Project, State Library of North Carolina, Raleigh. In Duke Homestead State Historic Site and Tobacco Museum. Accessed September 17, 2018. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16062coll8/id/9638.

[2] “North Carolina Historic Sites.” NC Historic Sites – Duke Homestead – Washington Duke the Farmer. Accessed October 7, 2018. http://www.nchistoricsites.org/duke/wduke.htm.

[3] Haedrich, Ken. Apple Pie: 100 Delicious and Decidedly Different Recipes for Americas Favorite Pie. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 2002.

[4] Farley, Jennifer Dawn. Duke Homestead and the American Tobacco Company. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2013.

[5] Durden, Robert Franklin. The Dukes of Durham: 1865-1929. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987.

[6] Anderson, Jean Bradley. Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.