Pieville, South Dakota
Dr. Seuss has Whoville. Casey has Mudville. And Peever had Pieville, thanks to Char's Cafe. Char Jarman and her husband, Allen, opened the place in 1977 with the help of their 13-year-old twins, the youngest of eight. "They finished growing up at the cafe and helping and hating every minute," Char said with a chuckle when we visited her two years ago.
Char baked a few fresh pies every day, but she outdid herself on Wednesdays when a dozen or more would go in the oven. Somehow, it became a habit for her and the community. "I never did anything to promote it," she said, with a bit of wonderment. "It just happened." After South Dakota Magazine featured Pie Day, the weekly tradition grew even more.
The last time we were there on a Wednesday, the pie menu (nothing but a handwritten scrap of paper) listed apple, blueberry, sour cream raisin, pecan, pumpkin, coconut cream and cherry. "In the winter we'll only use seven or eight pies," she said. "But in the summer we'll need 16 because the cafe will fill up in the afternoon."
For a town of 235, that's a lot of fruit and sugar. Many customers had a slice with their lunch and took one or two more "to go."
Char wouldn't divulge her piecrust recipe. She said it wasn't a secret, but she didn't want anyone to say it didn't turn out for them. "I just make it the way I make it," she said. "I use all-purpose shortening, flour and water."
For more than 30 years, she and Allen served three meals a day to friends and neighbors. At the break of day, Char started the pies and the daily specials. Allen peeled carrots and potatoes. Char called it "chopping and dropping," a term she picked up from her favorite TV chef, Rachel Ray.
|Char Jarman and Char Almanza, in Char's Cafe at Peever, South Dakota.|
Over 40 people worked for the Jarmans through the years, and Char remembered them all. She made a list of their names for the cafe's 30th anniversary in 2008. Ellie Landmark had been a cook and waitress for 28 years.
Char's is a long, narrow cafe in the style of old-time main street businesses. The building dates to 1902, and as with all old buildings, it needs constant attention. "If it wasn't for my husband, there wouldn't be a Char's Cafe," she said.
The cafe's bright, over-stuffed green booths provided homey seating for coffee drinkers and diners. A high, pressed-tin ceiling harkens back to the building's early days.
Several shelves of groceries — cans, boxes and jars — line the cafe's north wall, behind a long wood bar. The Jarmans stocked stocking groceries when the town's store closed. Old photographs of Peever hang on the cafe's south wall. They show farmers stacking hay and threshing, and a scene from a local fire.
Char's Cafe was as much a fixture of the little Roberts County community as the town water tower. So you can imagine the townspeople's distress when the cafe succumed to fire in 2011. Thankfully, we still have Char's mouthwatering recipe for Sour Cream Raisin Pie.
Char Jarman's Sour Cream Raisin Pie
1 cup raisins
2 1/2 cups cultured buttermilk
3 egg yolks, reserving whites for meringue
3/4 cup sugar, for filling
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter (heaping)
1/3 cup sugar, for meringue
Baked pie shell
Cover raisins with water and simmer in a heavy saucepan until water is almost boiled down and raisins are tender. Mix buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour and salt with wire whip in separate bowl, then add to raisins. Continue to cook and stir with wooden spoon until well thickened. Add butter. pour into pie shell.
Whip egg whites until fluffy then add sugar. Finish beating until stiff peaks form. Arrange on top of pie, touching edges of crust all around. Bake until golden brown in a 350 degree oven.