Lesson Plan on Pinckney Benedict's

"The Sutton Pie Safe"

from Town Smokes

By:  Annette Coleman McGrew
University of Kentucky


A pie safe is a wooden cabinet designed to store canned goods and baked goods. Some, like the one in the story, have metal artwork in the door panels. In "The Sutton Pie Safe," Benedict uses the Sutton pie safe and a snakeskin belt as symbols of a family's link to the past. He subtly provides social commentary as he contrasts Mrs. Hanson's evaluation of the pie safe as an antique and Jack Albright's reverence for it as a family heirloom.  

Grade Levels:  9-12 + 

Subjects:  English (Check Relevant Tennessee State Curriculum Standards for history and sociology, or the standards of learning in your state. See also Susan Mead's Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia! Exploring Social Issues Through Appalachian Children's Literature for applying sociological concepts to literature.)

Time Frame:  Four 45-minute lessons or two 90-minute blocks (adjust based on the needs of your class) 

Relevant Tennessee State Curriculum Standards: 

Subject:  ENGLISH 1 

  • Writing Standard:  The student will develop the structural and creative skills necessary to produce written language that can be read and interpreted by various audiences.

Learning Expectations:  The student will

  • 1.01  write to acquire knowledge, clarify thinking, synthesize information, improve study skills, gain confidence, and promote lifelong communication.

  • 1.02  write frequently for a variety of purposes including narration, description, persuasion, exposition, and personal, creative expression.

  • 1.03  identify and write for a variety of audiences.

  • 1.04  recognize that language has several levels of usage determined by audience, purpose and occasion.

  • 1.09  demonstrate effective writing style by the use of vivid words, a variety of sentence structures, and appropriate transitions.

  • 1.10  evaluate and revise writing to focus on purpose, organization, development, transitions, unity, and audience awareness. 

  • Reading Standard:  The student will develop the reading skills necessary for word recognition, comprehension, interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and appreciation of the written text.

Learning Expectations: The student will

  • 2.04  use comprehension strategies to enhance understanding, to make predictions, and to respond to literature.

  • 2.05  improve comprehension by interpreting, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating written text.

  • 2.06  use oral reading in individual and group presentations.

  • 2.10  discern the purposes, main ideas, biases, points of view, and persuasive devices found in various texts.

  • 2.11  interpret ideas, recognize logical relationships, and make judgments based on sufficient evidence.

  • 2.12  select resource material in order to apply it effectively.

  • 2.13  read, interpret, and respond in a variety of ways to various genres.

  • 2.14  identify and interpret literary elements and figurative language.

  • 2.15  interact with text to form a personal interpretation.

  • Speaking and Listening Standard: The student will express ideas clearly and effectively in a variety of oral contexts and apply active listening skills in the analysis and evaluation of spoken ideas.

Learning Expectations:  The student will

  • 4.01  demonstrate skills in analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of literary works through spoken language.

  • 4.02  demonstrate confidence and poise in various speaking situations.

  • 4.03  follow and give oral directions.Town Smokes cover

  • 4.04  utilize appropriate verbal and nonverbal feedback in a variety of situations.

  • 4.05  demonstrate effective listening skills through note-taking.

  • 4.06  demonstrate critical listening skills essential for comprehension and evaluation.

  • 4.07  present oral summaries and/or analysis of material read or viewed. 


Benedict, Pinckney. "The Sutton Pie Safe." Town Smokes. New York: Ontario Review Press, 1986. pp. 1-12. 

This story has been reprinted in Higgs, Robert J., et al. Appalachia Inside Out: A Sequel to Voices from the Hills. Vol. 1 Conflict and Change. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1995. pp. 278-84l and in other anthologies.

Photographs of pie safes: available on Internet Search Engines (such as Google.com Images) and at


Lesson I


  • Journal Prompt:  This activity assumes that the students are keeping a daily journal for writing practice. If they do keep a journal, have them answer the following questions as their daily journal entry.  If not, have students address them as homework or at the beginning of class. Allow time for students to share their responses in class.

What does heritage mean to you? What is your heritage? What items from your past or your family's past do you treasure and why are they valuable?

  • Assign "The Sutton Pie Safe" as homework or have students read the story aloud in class.

  • First Response:  Encourage students to discuss the following questions in class.

  1. How did you feel when Jack Albright killed the snake? Why do you think he killed it?

  2. Describe Mrs. Hanson's attitude toward the pie safe. How did it make you feel?

  3. How do you think Cates feels when Mrs. Hanson refers to the "country people" who reverse the punched tin on the pie safe? How would you feel about this comment if it were made to you? 

Lesson 2


  • Journal Prompt:  What is your response to the story?  Which character do you identify most with and why?

  • Comprehension Check Activity:

    Working in groups of three, the students will use their interpretation of the characters and the events of this afternoon to outline a skit that presents the evening meal at the Albright house. Allow the students to present their skits to the class. 

Lesson 3


  • Journal Prompt:  Think of an incident that you witnessed. Describe it from your point of view. Then describe the same event from a different point of view.

Use the following questions for class discussion.  

  • Literary Technique Questions:

1. Is the pie safe damaged? Support your answer using quotes from the story.

  • Mrs. Hanson feels that the pie safe is damaged, but the Albrights do not. The answer depends upon the point of view that is being considered.

2. Why does Jack bring the dead snake to the house? What does this act reveal about his character?

  • He plans to make a belt for Cates.

  • Jack brings the snake to the house to show his lack of respect for Mrs. Hanson and her social status.

  • Jack goes on with his life regardless of other events.

  • This act reveals his pride in his heritage and represents a silent rebellion against the forces that are destroying it.

  • It also reveals his revulsion for social stratification and his belief in the equality of all people.

3. Why is the Sutton pie safe so important to Jack?

  • The pie safe had been the bridal gift from Jack's father to his mother.

  • It represents the beginning of his family.

4. What does the Sutton pie safe mean to Sara?

  • The pie safe provides a means to fund a new barn.

  • It represents a way to preserve her family in the present.

5. Why is making a snakeskin belt for his son so important to Jack? Why does he abandon the project and destroy the snakeskin?

  • The snakeskin belt represents a family tradition.

  • Jack destroys the snakeskin to express his feelings of betrayal when his wife sells the pie safe without his consent.

  • Jack destroys the snakeskin because he feels that his son is rejecting his heritage and that this rejection is destroying his heritage.

6. Why does Jack go to the "ruined barn" instead of the house at the end of the story?

  • He feels that he belongs in the past represented by the barn, not the present represented by the house.

  • He is trying to maintain a connection to his past.

  • He wants to spend more time there before it is destroyed and replaced by the new barn.

  • He doesn't want to face the family that he feels has betrayed him.

7. What has Jack lost? How does Benedict convey this sense of loss to his readers without specifically telling them what is lost?

  • Jack has lost his past and his family identity.

  • Benedict uses the redundant symbols of the pie safe and the blacksnake skin to reveal the threats to his traditional Appalachian heritage.

  • Society stigmatizes his heritage and his son rejects it because he doesn't know how to act. 

Lesson 4


  • Journal Prompt:  What have you learned from reading this story? Would you recommend it to a friend? Why or why not?

The following questions may be used for a short quiz or for class discussion.

  • Essay/Short Answer Questions:

  1. What does Jack Albright mean when he says, "You're not going to leave me anything, are you?"

  2. How does Cates feel at the end of the story? What does he learn about his parents because of the events in this story? What does he learn about himself?

  3. What has Cates lost and gained because of his experiences during this day? Explain your answer.

Enrichment Activity:

  • Divide the students into pairs. Then give them the following instructions:

  1. Decide who will be the first recorder and who will be the first informant.

  2. Think about a family heirloom.

  3. The first informant will tell his or her partner about his or her heirloom, providing a detailed description and explaining the emotional significance of the item. As the first informant speaks, the recorder will take notes. Then the partners will switch roles and repeat the process.

  4. Using notes from your partner, create an ad for the heirloom that he or she described. 


  • Evaluation of skit

  • Evaluation of questions


Use the live audio recording of "The Strawberry Pie" by Jackie Torrence to extend and compare stories with the same plot elements.

Torrence, Jackie. My Grandmother's Treasures. Audio recording, including "The Strawberry Pie." Description from August House: "In these stories, recorded here for the first time, the woman known to audiences nationwide as 'The Story Lady' tells how some of the rough moments of childhood have helped smooth her way as an adult." The last story is about the storyteller's mother's childhood experience of taking a strawberry pie from the pie safe and being frightened into confessing. (Jackie Torrence was born and raised in central North Carolina.)

Additional Resources:

Pinckney Benedict. WV Center for the Book.

Pinckney Benedict. Author information on Press 53 publisher web site.

Brosi, George. "Pinckney Benedict, A Gleeful Writer." Appalachian Heritage Winter 2010. Available as pdf. Benedict is featured author in this issue.

Review of Town Smokes by Gilly Paget in The Richmond Review web site ("UK's first literary magazine to be published exclusively on the World Wide Web")

The Rumpus Interview with Pinckney Benedict by Kyle Minor, 7 July 2010 (in an online magazine on culture).
AppLit Index by Genre: Fiction for Adults

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