TIPTON, IA—With the invasion of Iraq underway, Janet Sensenbrenner, 54, a Tipton homemaker and mother of three, responded Tuesday by whipping up some of her famous war pie.
"Any time there's an invasion, I get down the mixing bowls and bake a sweet, delicious war pie," Sensenbrenner said. "In fact, I usually go ahead and make two because the first one always disappears in a flash. A U.S. military action in the Middle East just wouldn't be the same without it."
A self-described "amateur Martha Stewart," Sensenbrenner said her favorite way to serve the pie is oven-warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. She noted, however, that it is "every bit as good" with a tall glass of milk or a cup of coffee.
Sensenbrenner's son Chris, 16, said he bets he could eat an entire war pie all by himself.
"Obviously, no one in the family wants to see young American soldiers die in battle, but we sure do love Mom's war pie," Chris said. "I walked in the house after basketball practice, and I could smell it in the oven. Mmm, mmm, it's too bad we don't go to war more often!"
Next Monday, Sensenbrenner plans to take a war pie to the Cedar County Clerk's office, where she works as a secretary, just as she did during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
She described the gesture as a nice way to boost people's spirits for the difficult times ahead, as well as—her coworkers tease—a chance to show off her baking skills.
"War pie is so rich, you couldn't eat it all the time," Cedar County Clerk Nora Weltz said. "But it's okay to overlook calories every few years when the U.S. bombs Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sudan, Bosnia, or wherever."
The recipe has been handed down in Sensenbrenner's family for generations.
"The tradition goes back many years," Sensenbrenner said. "I got the recipe from my mom and she from hers, and so on. The only change I've made was switching the lard in the crust to vegetable shortening. It's still as gooey and delicious as it was back when Truman sent troops to the Korean peninsula."
War pie is not the only military-themed dish Sensenbrenner has made over the years.
"I made Skirmish Custard when we invaded Grenada and Police Action Potato Chip Casserole when we went into Panama for General Noriega," Sensenbrenner said. "Even [husband] Doug got into the act with his Air Strikes Against Libya Waffles."
For all the desserts Sensenbrenner has concocted, however, her traditional war pie remains the family's all-time favorite.
"Lordy, imagine how many times I've gotten this old thing out," said Sensenbrenner, holding the well-worn pink index card that contains the recipe. "I must have passed it on to at least 25 friends over the years, and that's not counting everyone who's read it in the First Lutheran Church recipe book."
According to Sensenbrenner, making a truly delicious war pie is a skill that cannot be learned from a book, but rather from years of practice.
"I'm thinking it was the Bay of Pigs when I first saw my mother make war pie, but it might have been Vietnam," Sensenbrenner said. "At any rate, I was standing next to her on a chair at the kitchen counter as she rolled out the dough. 'Sprinkle the rolling pin and counter with flour, but don't use too much, or the crust will be tough,' she told me. Seems like only yesterday."
During the 1991 Gulf War, Sensenbrenner repeated the touching scene with her own daughter.
"Heather and I were peeling fruit at the sink, and Wolf Blitzer was on in the next room talking about the previous night's bombing raids on Baghdad," Sensenbrenner said. "Butter was up to five dollars a pound that year, but there was no way I was going to substitute margarine. A war pie wouldn't be a war pie without real butter."
"Today, Heather is a junior at Iowa State," Sensenbrenner continued. "She called the other day and was so disappointed to hear that she was missing out on war pie. I promised to bake another one the next time she's home for the weekend. They're expecting this whole Iraq thing to be over in a matter of weeks, though, so I told her she'd better make it quick."