Making Midnight Pies and Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

The Recipe Book

As I begin writing this it’s after midnight on Thanksgiving eve, and I’m up making pies. I mentioned in my first post that my tendency to write things down is a large part of what makes me my mother’s daughter. Well, so does making various baked goods at all hours of the evening.

As much as I regret it in the morning, staying up late to cook is just, well, it’s in my blood I suppose. Mom was forever deciding to whip up some brownies or some three layer cake long after most people were sound asleep. And as a young girl she’d often let me help her, especially in the summer when school was out. I loved those late nights with my mom, not realizing at the time that most people didn’t make peanut butter cookies at midnight. It was one of my mom’s many eccentricities I now adore.

To state the obvious, I’d love to be cooking with her right now. I imagine how fun it would be to prepare Thanksgiving dinner with George and Elijah running around at our feet. Thankfully my husband and I got to spend her last Thanksgiving with her and my dad, all four of us sitting around our tiny little kitchen table in Kentucky. That dinner is a hilarious story involving Bryan making upwards of three trips to the grocery store to return various decreasing sizes of frozen turkeys until he finally secured the turkey breast we needed for our small lunch . I’ll have to share that story sometime when I feel up to it. We had no idea it would be her last Thanksgiving, but in a way there is something peaceful about that unknowing. It was a very simple meal, just the four of us. She brought sage from her garden for the dressing, dried and stored in a mason jar. The next night we all went to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Anyway, so here I am making midnight pies, writing this post, thinking about my mom, and waiting for the timer to ding.

We will be having Thanksgiving supper at my cousin’s house  (a wonderful family who has taken our family in and treat us just like close relatives), and I’m making the coconut pie. All the younger cousins divided up the making of the deserts and that’s the one that was left.  I really wanted to make something, so I was happy to volunteer. I’ve never made a coconut pie before, but I love a good culinary challenge. And I do make a mean apple and pumpkin pie, if I do say so myself. But who knows how this coconut pie will turn out.

So I turned to my stack of old cookbooks and boxes of hand-written recipes inherited from my grandmother Golda (Mamma) and my Great Aunt Mae, and I came across this gem pictured above. Published in 1979, this book boasts such dishes as “pressed chicken” and “pizza in a burger. But it does have a  fairly nice pie selection.

From My Mother to My Grandmother

The best part about this book, however, is the inscription inside the front cover. Given as a present from my mother to her mother  back in 1979, naturally I had to use this book. My mother and grandmother had a wonderful relationship, and were incredibly close. I’m sure there were difficulties between them over the years. After all, no love is without its frustrations. But on the whole they had a relationship of respect and adoration that is hard to find. Between the two of them (and my paternal grandmother and a host of wonderful great aunts) they showed me how to be a strong woman, how to love other people, and the importance of a good desert.

Besides being one of the kindest and most gentle people on the whole planet (sure I’m partial, but she really was quite amazing), my grandmother was also a wonderful cook. Everyone who knew her always talks about how she  had a big pot of pinto beans on the stove every single day of the year. My mom liked to put those beans on her cake, but that’s a different post for a different day. I have wonderful, if slightly faded,memories of Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house, especially the homemade chocolate and pumpkin pies my grandmother would make and sit them on top of the deep freeze in the back bedroom to cool. I can just see her in her apron and homemade house shoes, standing over the stove endlessly stirring.

I’ve mentioned how my mom and grandmother were list makers .  Well, inside of this cookbook were many random pieces of paper, including this grocery list complete with detailed budget. Based on the items found there (cranberry sauce, pie crusts, cool whip)I’d venture to guess this was perhaps a holiday list.

Possible Thanksgiving grocery list

After pouring over this list and replaying a thousand and one memories of following my grandmother around the grocery store and watching my mom and Mama prepare food together, I settled on this simple recipe at the top of the page.

Pie recipe

I ended up altering it slightly and added a meringue from a cookbook of Aunt Mae’s, but the ingredients are the same. Because it’s a fairly small town I know the woman who submitted this recipe. In fact, she made our boys’ some wonderful little knitted caps last winter and is a twin mom herself.

The pie was easy to make, although I’m not sure if I got my meringue just right. I can remember mom always telling me that try as she might she never could get her meringue to “sit up pretty” like Mama’s always did. So, note to self: work on meringue technique for subsequent pies.

Here’s a picture Bryan took of the pie in process.

Gooey pie insides

And here are the final pies, one with meringue and one without.

Everyone approaches grief differently, but for me , holidays are sort of a mixture between an open wound and a healing balm. One minute I want to cry my eyes out and throw things in anger, and the next minute I feel this form of peace as I take part in timeless traditions I learned from my those I’ve lost. It’s my third Thanksgiving without my Mom and 18th, 19th, and 7th Thanksgiving without my grandparents. Funny thing is  now that my Mom is gone I find myself grieving all those losses all over again.

Grief seems to operate on a continuum. It’s an undercurrent that cuts a channel through my life and the life of the family my husband and I are creating. But grief does not have to mean utter sadness or despair. Grief is about mourning our losses, but it’s also about honoring memories and acknowledging those we’ve lost live on in things like our mannerisms, our approach to parenting, our depth of belief, and, of course, our pies.

If you get to spend this day with your family of origin or of choice embrace that. Soak it all in. And if you know people who are missing someone, don’t be afraid to ask them about their relative. They may not want to talk about them, but chances are they would love to tell you about the pies they once made or the goofy things they once did, all ways of saying that the people we’ve lost live within us and, to a large extent, make us who we are.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Mama, Papa, and my mother circa 1985ish


6 Responses to “Making Midnight Pies and Happy Thanksgiving”

  1. mimi said

    What a beautiful blog, keep posting!

  2. Jen erwin said

    I love this post! I really love the grocery list; it reminds me of how great it is to find scraps of daily lives.

  3. Thanks so much Jen and Mimi!

    Jen–I agree. I love learning about people through discarded seemingly mundane things.

  4. Jo Ann said

    Wonderful sharing…yes, the holidays open up both the pain and the joy! Love you!

  5. Erin said

    Meredith what a great post and what a treasure that cookbook is.

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