Pies, memories and mothers

I woke up this morning thinking about my late beloved mother, Adelene, who was a wonderful maker of pies. I had such a clear memory of her, standing at our kitchen table in Portland one Thanksgiving a few years ago, Michael’s blue workman’s apron tied around her waist, rolling pin in hand, her hand-written recipe for pecan pie at her side. When I went looking for the photo, however, I see that my memory had altered and added a few elements: it was Christmas, not Thanksgiving; the apron was tan, not blue; and in her hand – for some strange reason – is a hammer, not a rolling pin (I suspect Michael was nearby, goofing around). But that is definitely her pie-making paraphernalia in front of her.

mom with hammerAfter my sisters and I were long grown, and Mom was a widow, she loved to travel. Whenever she visited us during the holidays – daughters and grandsons in Portland, San Francisco, Mexico, Miami, or Austin; sisters in Los Angeles and San Francisco – she came with her pie-making gear in her bag: pastry cloth, a pastry sleeve for the rolling pin, and an old pastry blender she’s had for many years, used to cut the lard into the flour for the crust. We loved her pies and demanded that she make them for any holiday. Pecan, mincemeat and pumpkin were her specialties.

rolling pin sleevepastry blender      pecan pie

Her crusts were great. Her secret? Crisco. The recipe? Classic Americana, with Karo syrup:  http://karosyrup.com/recipe_details.asp?id=485

mom with crust 2mom, crisco cropped

Our father was a fabulous and a natural cook, as are my son and my husband. (I do not have this particular gene, but I do seem to be a carrier of it, as well as attracted to those with it.) My mother, however, was a nervous cook. A child of the depression, she was always worried there wouldn’t be enough for seconds. She had a few standard dinners, which she cooked very well, but she didn’t find happiness in planning, shopping, and creating meals. Like a lot of women from her generation, however, baking gave her great pleasure. Perhaps because there was less pressure. Perhaps because dessert was a luxury, not a necessity.

That was probably the last time Mom made pies in Portland, but she spent several other holidays in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with my sisters and their families. Here she is her last Christmas, at 91 years, still looking great, making pies with Char.

Mom instructs Char

This is not our first Thanksgiving without Mom. Last year was. But we had just lost her three months before, at 92, and the grief was too fresh to even think about pies, much less that we will never have another one of her’s. (Although I hear a recent rumor that my nephew Alex might carry on the tradition.)

So this year I am going to make a sort-of pie. Not one of Mom’s, of course, but a pumpkin/ginger cheesecake with graham cracker crust from Laura Chavez Silverman’s great blog: http://gluttonforlife.com/2013/11/15/say_cheesecake#letter

Well, darn! This entry is short because I must go shopping now for the ingredients. I’d much prefer to stay at home and write, or work in the garden, or clean the house or fridge, or do anything else. When it comes to cooking, I guess I am my mother’s daughter.

In any case, have a Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Hanukkah.






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11 thoughts on “Pies, memories and mothers

  1. Your blog brought back wonderful memories of pecan pies made by my grandmother & mother in rural Texas. The ingredients are harder to buy (& expensive) in Cuenca, Ecuador, but I have an expat friend, Lucy @ the Windhorse Cafe, who makes a great Whiskey Pecan pie. Yum. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with family and memories of your mom. I look forward to meeting you when you return to EC.

  2. I knew I should have run the blog by a cook before I posted! Michael immediately pointed out that the hammer was for cracking the pecans, which Mom probably also brought with her.

  3. Judy, I loved seeing the photos of your Mom and hearing about the way she had with pies. I have a cold right now, but Regina and I are going to a friend’s house for dinner on Thursday and I am going to bake a beautiful apple pie. Your post inspired me to get on my bike and go to the grocery store for some Crisco. I’ve never made pie crust with Crisco before, but what the heck, I am going to try it out. Now I am home, ready to go, but I find that our pastry blender must have been part of the potlatch when we moved! Damn…I’ll borrow one from the neighbors.

  4. I’m honored, Judy, and hope my cheesecake can serve as tribute to such a marvelous woman—and as inspiration to her reluctant chef daughter. Happy Thanksgiving! xo

  5. Judy: I remember Adelene bringing her pecan pie to our house for dinner one night. As a Southerner, I was skeptical , but it was just how I remembered it from childhood–I could tell your mom was pleased. Afterwards, she sent me the recipe you’ve attached. I can attest to its crunchy, gooey authenticity. Looking forward to sampling gluttonforlife’s pumpkin, ginger cheesecake tomorrow. Sounds scrumptious! Nancy

  6. I still have the card your mom sent to me in her beautiful handwriting as a thank you for a holiday card I sent to her a few years ago. As much as I love to cook and bake I have never been able to master a pie crust (although I too use part Crisco, part butter). It sounds like your mom had just the right touch! Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  7. Thank you so much Judy for sharing your photos, mother, and memories with us. You inspired Larry to make the first pies of his life, two pumpkin/squash pies from scratch. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Michael.

  8. Dear Judy,

    How wonderful to see your beautiful photos of Adelene. She was so gorgeous – inside and out. Not sure I ever had one of her pies though!

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