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