Some Call Her “Pie Lady,”
Others “Daylily Lady”
DeLois Dunn laughs when she talks about the two "titles" she’s often given.
"If it’s a man, they usually refer to me as the ‘Pie Lady,’" she explained. "If it’s a woman, they usually call me the ‘Daylily Lady.’"
So how did she earn this recognition from not only her friends and neighbors in Blount County but from folks throughout the Southeast?
"I can’t think of a time when I DIDN’T know how to make fried pies," DeLois remembered.
"I grew up on a farm and I helped mother dry apples on top of the tin roofs of the outbuildings. We had an orchard."
"Folks had discovered you could make fried pies from the dried apples and they wouldn’t sour when you took them in your pails to the cotton fields. I probably started out frying them in an iron skillet with the fried pie winding up being half the size of the skillet."
Now she and husband Harold have sold their fried pies at the pie cottage at Homestead Hollow at Springville for 23 years and hundreds each year at the Bloom-N-Pie Days held at their Skyball Road farm in Blount County.
"We contracted with Homestead Hollow to make their apple and peach pies that they resell, and then we make fresh-out-of-the-pan chocolate, sweet potato, pecan and coconut crème."
These aren’t the "processed" pies you might buy at the grocery store. They’re made from-scratch with filling like the "old-fashioned coconut custard."
Harold’s mother guided DeLois in beginning the sweet potato pies and helped at festivals for many years.
"I guess copying is a form of flattery," DeLois said about the proliferation of pecan fried pies, a type she began making several decades ago, but which is now copied at festivals all over the country.
"The pecan pies are a ‘kissing cousin’ to the plate pecan pies," she noted.
So where do the "blooms" and daylilies come in?
"It’s kind of the same way with flowers; we just always had them," DeLois said.
"There would be kids selling seeds as fundraisers for schools and my mother, Lois King, would always buy a big box of Ferry Morse flower and vegetable seeds. We had the vegetables to eat, but we had the touch-me-nots and the zinnias and more for our souls.
"I’d ride the bus by Ruth Pate’s house at Susan Moore and marvel at the rows and rows of beautiful daylilies. Ruth was the lunchroom manager at Susan Moore School for years, but she was more widely known when she retired for her flowers.
"I was used to seeing the ditch-yellow daylilies, but she had pinks and reds. I collected a few as I could. After we married, Harold and I joined the Blount Iris and Daylily Club, where Ruth was a charter member. I guess it just wasn’t long until I was addicted."
DeLois has served as president and other offices within that group and now serves as vice-president and historian.
"Folks who are interested should also join the National Daylily Society because you get the Daylily Journal and that has all sorts of information on hybridizing and new species."
The Society’s website notes that originally the only colors for daylilies were yellow, orange and "fulvous red."
"Today we have colors ranging from near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue and fabulous blends. Many people are familiar with only the common yellow or orange along roadsides. These daylilies are cultivated forms of the wild types of daylilies which have ‘escaped’ and are growing as if they are wild. All the modern daylilies have been developed through a complicated history of hybridization among these and other wild types," the website explained.
"The outer portion of the daylily flower is considered to be the basic color of the flower."
DeLois, often with help from Harold, who worked on heavy equipment and served a term as a Blount County Commissioner, has hybridized two specific new plants.
(Their son, Clay and his wife, Heather, help with shows and festivals, as they live on their own farm nearby. Their son Mitchell works for Homeland Security and is now stationed in Arizona.)
Two which she’s hybridized and which she thinks are most special are:
• Skyball Tango, coral with a glowing green throat, is a double-bloom with more petals, more layers and with an unusual thickness.
• Skyball Sunset, a double-lemon yellow, is a "healthy-growing plant the average gardener can have success with," DeLois explained.
To hybridize, DeLois noted each flower has male and female pistils, and a pod of pollen must be taken from the male pistil of one flower to the female of another, where it then travels down the tiny stem to the plant’s ovary.
"You don’t break off the bloom. When the bloom sheds off, it leaves a ball which will grow into a seed pod. When the pods crack open you plant those tiny seeds.
"The plant won’t bloom until the next year. You don’t know what you’ll have until the end of the journey and that’s what makes it so exciting!" DeLois said.
"I’m a pink person. I like to experiment with the pinks. Whoever develops a true blue though will be rich!"
Next June will be the Dunn’s Tenth Annual Bloom-N-Pie Days at their farm, with close to 800 varieties of daylilies and some hydrangeas to view and for sale, and with fried pies available in abundance from DeLois’s state-inspected home/commercial kitchen "pie house" which sits at the home’s rear, completed with a walk-in freezer where she stores all her dried fruit to make sure they maintain their freshness.
If you simply can’t wait until their big "doings" event the second week next June, they will also be selling their pies at Homestead Hollow at special events in October and November, and at Blount County’s Covered Bridge Festival in October.
"Whenever we visit a nursing home or wherever, somebody will usually come up to me, tap me on the shoulder and ask simply, ‘Don’t you have one of those fried pies hidden in your purse?’" DeLois smiled.
(To be placed on the Dunn’s Bloom-N-Pie mailing list, you may contact them at (205) 429-2392 or write them at 2395 Skyball Road; Hayden, AL 35079.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County who can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.