On Food and Holiday Stories

by Memoir Mentor on January 4, 2012

I’ve decided this blog post will combine two writing assignments I gave my students recently: Write a story about a holiday memory, and write a story about food.

I’ve  been thinking a lot about food in the last two months, and the scales show it. It’s natural, after all. As Mom and Grandmother, I’m in charge of holiday food preparation (we’re traditional at our house)–and Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two biggest food holidays of the year, right?

Ree Drummond

I discovered “The Pioneer Woman” (TPW) on the Food Network in mid-December, and since then my cooking and waistline have taken off on a new trajectory. After being thoroughly enchanted by TPW’s Christmas show, I checked out her blog and felt like the last person arriving at a gala party. I consider myself a foodie of sorts, and I wonder how I could be so out of the loop. Why, she (Ree Drummond, aka TPW) has a mind-boggling 20-plus million people visit her blog every month. Amazing! Where have I been?

I may be a little slow on the uptake, but I’ve scrambled to make up for lost time. Since watching TPW’s Christmas show, I’ve made her cinnamon rolls TWICE (delivering them to my nearest and dearest the way she did on her show, but without the cowboy duds), her prime rib, cream gravy, and Dutchess potatoes (served on Christmas Eve to rave reviews), and her Italian Chicken Soup (last night’s dinner fare). I’ll say this in my behalf: I’ve spent substantial time looking through the comments on TPW’s blog, and it seems to me that most of of her followers say things like, “Sounds like a yummy recipe. I’ll have to try it.” I just wonder how many of them walk the talk like I’ve done, and in such a short amount of time!

TPW has carved out a great niche for herself in the foodie sector with her city-girl-turned-ranch-wife narrative. That, plus her lively personality and mouth-watering recipes (cinnamon rolls!) have garnered her a well-deserved following. My friend Lorna says I must read her books. Really, how does TPW find the time? She even home-schools her four kids!

This rather long intro, leads me to the  story I’ve prepared to fulfill the two assignments I gave my students. When it comes to writing, I’m usually slow to practice what I preach, but consider this story an effort to fulfill a resolution I set for myself three days ago. There are areas where I, too, need to Walk the Talk.

An Ode to Barbara’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

When I married at 19 with minimal cooking experience, I could have been intimidated by my new mother-in-law, who had been a high school home economics teacher before she married. But Barbara was welcoming and gracious, sharing many of her recipes and cooking techniques with me over the years. She knew everything about the basics of cooking, particularly baking. Thanksgiving gave her ample opportunity to show off her baking talents to a very appreciative audience. Pumpkin chiffon pies were one of her specialties.

She typically made her pies the day before Thanksgiving to free herself for other cooking tasks the day of. When her pies were completed, she stored them on wire racks in her laundry room and warned anyone heading that direction to be careful not to disturb her pies.

Barbara prided herself on her pie crust and assumed the role of final arbiter of its quality, assessing the degree of flakiness and worrying about it becoming “soaked” overnight from absorbing too much moisture from the filling. These assessments were mostly made to herself in a muttering voice while we all sat at the table wallowing in a sensory overload with every bite of her incomparable pie. I always seemed to be sitting to her left, a witness to her mutters from time to time.

I had never before tasted pumpkin pie the way she made it. It was light and fluffy, the pumpkin custard folded into whipped egg whites before being cooked on the stove and poured into her baked pie shells. She always made enough pies for everyone in her large family to have two pieces–one an hour or two after dinner, and another later in the evening. She cut the pies in generous wedges after slathering the tops with a thick layer of sweetened whipped cream. Eating Barbara’s pie was like biting into a fluffy pumpkin cloud that melted in your mouth like cotton candy.

I liked the lightness of her recipe compared to the standard custard pumpkin pies I’d been used to, particularly after a heavy Thanksgiving dinner, but some of the “in-laws” who later joined the family didn’t share my opinion. One year after dinner, a lively discussion ensued about the merits of Barbara’s pies compared with the traditional recipe and one of the in-laws came up with humorous labels to distinguish them. Barbara’s pies were “air pies,” he pronounced, and the familiar pumpkin custard pies were labeled “solid state.” Barbara took it all in good humor and the labels stuck.

We lost Barbara a few years ago, and I miss her. Besides teaching me how to cook, she taught me many life lessons I deeply appreciate. This Thanksgiving I looked for her pie recipe and it disturbed me when I couldn’t find the recipe card in my files. I remember exactly what it looked like: Well used, it had pumpkin-colored fingerprints on its edges, the directions written in blue ink in Barbara’s clear hand. Frustrated in not being able to find the card, I went online, Googled “pumpkin chiffon pie” and found a recipe that looked similar to Barbara’s. However, when my daughter-in-law announced that her husband, my son, had “shamed her into making a pumpkin pie” for Thanksgiving, I decided to put off making mine until next year. My daughter-in-law’s pie was delicious but, alas, it was Solid State.

I bet TPW has a recipe for pumpkin pie on her blog. I’ll have to check it out, but judging from what I know of her cooking proclivities, I’d guess she’s a “Solid State” kind of gal.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Morrie January 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm

A fun story. I can hardly wait until next Thanksgiving!

2 Cheryl January 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I have the recipe!!! I make it every year. And it has been something that MY daughter-in-law raves over and dreams about…so you see, the cycle continues 😉 And this year, Sariah’s gift to me was taking all of my recipes that I actually use (and Bob’s) and typing them up in large font on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper, with each recipe in a protective plastic sleeve, and putting them in a cute notebook, organized according to type of recipe. She also made copies for all of my kids…what an awesome gift!

3 Memoir Mentor January 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Hooray! You’ll have to send the recipe to me sometime when you get the chance. I should have thought to check with my sisters-in-law!

4 Mary Kaye January 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I used to make one “solid state” pie for Terry and any of the in-laws that would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. Then I discovered that this mockery of our “air pies” was just a well thought out plot. Oh they would make fun of our “air pies” to be sure, but that never stopped the in-laws from eating them. Then when those deliciously light, melt-in-your-mouth pies were all devoured the only pies left to eat were those heavy sit in the pit of your stomach “solid state” pies. The pies they didn’t have to share because no one in the family wanted them. Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice and you no longer get “solid state” pie.

5 Memoir Mentor January 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Ha! Good for you, MK. Let them eat cake!

6 Carolyn January 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Loved your story, Dawn. I started reading it to Grandma Grace, and it made me cry. I sure do miss Mom.
I have a story to add about Mom’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pies. One year, several of us went to Mary Kaye’s for Thanksgiving. Things were fairly hectic with that many people, and Mom had indeed made her famous crusts, but had to leave before they were done baking. She put me in charge of taking them out of the oven, and pouring in the filling. I was unused to Mary Kaye’s oven, and checked, but decided they needed to be left a litle longer….Alas! two minutes later they were burnt! Perhaps not too badly, but enough that Mom would be upset. “You will just have to make new crusts,” MK declared, “I am too busy with the rolls.” “But I will NEVER be able to make them good enough to pass Mom’s critique.” “She always criticizes her own crusts! Just don’t say anything…she’ll never notice.” I may be known in the family for certain talents, but culinary skill isn’t one of them. A few hours later I was the one nervously sitting to the left of Mom as we bit into our pies. “Hmmm,” Mom said, “I don’t believe my crust turned out as flaky as I like!” “See!” I blurted out, “She could tell!” MK hissed, “Just be quiet, Carolyn!! She always says that!” But it was too late. Mom said, “What are you two talking about?” I confessed what had happened, whereupon Mom immediately replied, “Oh, well, I REALLY think this crust is quite good! Very flaky, very nice….”

7 Memoir Mentor January 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm

What a great story, Carolyn. I could just picture it happening, and I know your mother would have reacted that way, changing her assessment of the crust to make you feel good. All of you should write down your memories about growing up in your family. I’ve heard many of you talk about them over the years, but it would be great if you wrote them down. If we collected enough of them, they could make a nice book…Memories of Growing Up Thurston, or something like that.

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