Seattle Story Project
Sheila Kelly holds a mincemeat pie bought by her mother, Helen May Kelly, in 1988, on Friday, November 22, 2019, at her home in Seattle. Her mother died before the pie could be consumed and she has kept it in her fridge for 31 years.
Enlarge Icon
Sheila Kelly holds a mincemeat pie bought by her mother, Helen May Kelly, in 1988, on Friday, November 22, 2019, at her home in Seattle. Her mother died before the pie could be consumed and she has kept it in her fridge for 31 years.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

This pie has been in a Seattle fridge since 1988 — not by accident

“Have you seen the Helen M. Kelly Memorial Mince Pie?”

It’s a great conversation starter with dinner guests. The story goes back to 1988 when my mother Helen May Kelly was 87. I asked her to bring her signature mincemeat tarts for Thanksgiving dessert. She never liked to cook, it was a burden to feed six kids, including five boys. She did take joy in baking wonderful things: fudge- frosted chocolate cake, date pinwheel cookies, perfect lemon meringue pies.

Read the KUOW story about this pie.

She arrived carrying — not the assigned dish, not those perfect tarts – but a Lloyd J. Harriss frozen mincemeat pie purchased at the supermarket and baked in Spokane, then brought on the five-hour drive with my brother Kevin over the Cascade Mountains. I thanked her— and put the packaged pie on the top shelf of the refrigerator.

The pie didn’t get served that night. My daughter Erin had made a pumpkin pie that got eaten first lest it spoil. After Thanksgiving, Kevin and Mother returned to Spokane. Three weeks later she had a heart attack. Triple bypass surgery opened the blood flow to her still strong heart, but she never regained consciousness, and on Christmas Eve she died.

Sheila Kelly holds a photograph of her mother, Helen May Kelly, on Friday, November 22, 2019, at her home in Seattle. The photo shows Helen on the Thanksgiving when she brought the mince pie to Sheila's house.
Enlarge Icon
Sheila Kelly holds a photograph of her mother, Helen May Kelly, on Friday, November 22, 2019, at her home in Seattle. The photo shows Helen on the Thanksgiving when she brought the mince pie to Sheila's house.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Thirty-one years later, the mince pie is still on the top shelf of my refrigerator (not freezer) intact in its Lloyd J. Harriss box, looking like it did when I put it there in 1988. I have attached a fluorescent pink Post-It with the message “Do not remove pie—it is a sacred object.” The directive has been included in our instructions for house sitters.

We periodically bring the pie out and look at it. Over the years, when it didn’t develop mold, or disintegrate, or turn to mush, we began to wonder: What’s this made of? What is the half-life of a pie?

I checked the package. No ingredients were listed. We concluded it must be an angel food pie made from ethereal elements, or it was made like a presto log, of unknown origins likely including petroleum by-products.

Days, seasons and years have passed. Many friends question my sanity for continuing to harbor the pie. Some are disgusted, others are intrigued. When one woman viewed the intact crust, she saw the outline of the face of the Virgin Mary. I guess I could see it too. That would please my mother. She would take that as proof of the value of my sixteen years of Catholic education.

Throughout the decades, as I attended to this third-class relic, I pondered when and how I could eventually dispose of it.

A note taped to a mincemeat pie box reads 'Do not remove pie - it is a sacred object' on Friday, November 22, 2019, at the home of Sheila Kelly in Seattle. Her mother, Helen May Kelly, purchased the pie but died before the pie could be consumed. Kelly has kept the pie in her fridge ever since.
Enlarge Icon
A note taped to a mincemeat pie box reads 'Do not remove pie - it is a sacred object' on Friday, November 22, 2019, at the home of Sheila Kelly in Seattle. Her mother, Helen May Kelly, purchased the pie but died before the pie could be consumed. Kelly has kept the pie in her fridge ever since.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Many timely dates have passed:

—the first, tenth, twenty- fifth anniversary of Mother’s death;

—the day I first became a Grandma Kelly (that granddaughter just turned 26);

—Mother’s 100th birthday (18 years ago)

I also have considered methods for preserving it indefinitely:

—Immortalize it in a poem or a song or a ballad -- Find a ‘”Museum of Amazing Food Artifacts of the 80s”

--Plasticize it or cast it in resin.

I have concluded it should be burned, like the offering (and log) that it is. Perhaps after a Thanksgiving dinner where food and family are present. I am open to other ideas… Please send yours to smbkelly@gmail.com.