Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Custard Pies and Family Reunions

July 5, 2012

Egg custard pie was my favorite. Mama stood in the kitchen, Grandma Payne’s recipe card propped at eye level in the window, the green glass mixing bowl in front of her, as she combined milk, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. She whisked the mixture and poured it into the unbaked pie shells resting on the oven racks. She slid the metal rack carefully into the oven and closed the door. As minutes ticked, the aroma of the baked custard filled the room. She only made them for special occasions, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and family reunions. She always baked two, and two were never enough. Not a piece was left after the first round of dessert.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were close together, but the family reunion was in June. Six months was a long time to wait for my pies, so when the time rolled around, I was excited. Mama spent the morning baking and my mouth watered until I didn’t think there could be any wet left in it. We loaded the car and headed to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Grandma had been cooking all day the day before and all that morning too. Her kitchen table was covered with bowls, platters, glass jars, dishes, and baskets. Potato salad, baked beans, a picnic shoulder ham, chocolate layer cake, deviled eggs, three kinds of homemade pickle, strawberry jam, buttery yeast rolls, cookies, and fried chicken waited for places in the picnic basket, coolers, and trunk of the car. After arranging, rearranging, stacking, and praying, the trunk finally shut, but the two custard pies were still in the backseat of the car. Mama and Grandpa always rode up front and argued over directions. Grandma and I rode together in the backseat, ignoring them and telling secrets.

“Oh no,” Mama said. “We forgot the pies. Where will be put them? There’s no room in the trunk. It’s slam full.”

“Let’s put them in the floorboard,” Grandma said. “There’s plenty of room for Margaret-Dawn and me if we scootch together a little bit.”

I slid over close to Grandma and she hugged me tight against her soft padding. She smiled down at me.

Mama carefully placed the plastic wrapped custard pies on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. “Now you watch your feet,” she said to me. “Don’t be stepping in my pies.”

All went well on the drive over the mountain. Grandma and I counted cows, looked for John Deere tractors and whispered secrets about a package of chocolate chip cookies with my name on them packed into the corner of the picnic basket. We laughed at my silly joke about the chicken and the lollipop, and decided what we were going to fill our plates with when we got to the reunion.

Two and a half hours after we left Grandma and Grandpa’s, Mama pulled off the main highway onto the gravel road leading to the picnic shelter. I could see all my aunts, uncles, and cousins up ahead. While the women arranged dishes on the long tables, the men unloaded coolers of drinks and fired up the grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. My cousins were already having fun. Some pitched horseshoes, others unloaded fishing gear. Several flew kites.

The car rolled to a stop and I slid across the seat to jump out the door. I felt the mistake before I saw it, the soft squish under my foot.  In my excitement, I put my foot right in the middle of one of Mama’s custard pies. “Oh no,” I said looking down at the sneakered instigator.

“What’s wrong?” Mama asked, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror.

I felt the heat rise into my face. “I stepped in the pie,” I whispered.

“You didn’t!” Mama yelled.

“Don’t you get on her,” Grandma admonished. “She was just excited. Besides, it’s my fault. I told you to put them on the floor. No harm done.” She frowned at my Mama, giving her the look my Mama often gave me.

“No harm?” Mama asked, her own face turning its own shade of red as she opened her door and turned to open mine. She flung it wide and stared at the ruined pie with the imprint of my shoe neatly cratered into it. “Look what you did,” she accused, as I started to cry.

Grandma patted my knee. “Don’t you cry. We have enough food to feed an army in this car. No one will ever know there were two pies. It’ll be our little secret,” Grandma said, winking at me.

Mama rolled her eyes and huffed her anger as she grabbed the remaining pie and turned to the trunk with her keys in her hand. Grandpa opened his door and headed to the back of the car to help her unload. Grandma sat still, waiting with me, handing me a tissue from her purse. “Don’t you feel bad,” she said. “Accidents happen to the best of us. I dropped a whole bowl of watermelon on the floor this morning. You just sit here with me for a few minutes and get yourself together. Let your Mama work off that steam she’s built up.”

I sniffled and stared at the stupid pie.

“You should have seen that mess I made,” Grandma said. “Watermelon from one end of the kitchen to the other. I wanted to cry too, almost did. Then I got to thinking.”

I looked up at her. “You did?” I asked.

“Yep, sure did. More for me, I decided. I cleaned that mess up, ate the pieces that stayed in the bowl ’til I had my fill and threw the rest away. No harm done. Just a little clean-up, that’s all.  Reach down there and hand me that pie,” she said.

I reached down and picked up the still plastic wrapped dessert and handed it to my Grandma. She held it in one hand as she fished around in her purse with the other. Finally, she pulled out a plastic spoon and smiled.

I looked at her, confused.

“Clean-up,” she said. “I always carry one of these for just such an occasion.”  She wiped the spoon with another of her tissues. She grinned at me. “Let’s unwrap this and have us some.”

“But it’s ruined,” I said.

“Tastes just as good with a footprint as without,” she said, unwrapping the pie and digging in for a bite. Then she handed me the spoon. “See how lucky we are,” she said. “A whole pie all to ourselves.”

I grabbed the spoon and dug in.

“You sure you didn’t plan this all along?” Grandma asked me, winking and wiping the corner of her mouth with her tissue.

To this day, custard pies are still my favorite.

Grandma Payne’s Custard Pie Recipe

3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbl. flour
2 cups milk
nutmeg

Mix sugar, salt and flour well. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix all well, pour into deep dish unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg on top of pie. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn down to 325 degrees. Bake until pie is done (knife comes out clean).

Homemade Rolls, Pound Cake, and a few Cats

December 30, 2010

Georgia called the other night.

“Hey, when is that boy of yours coming home again?”

“He’ll be home tomorrow,” I said. “Goes back Saturday.”

“I’ve been promising him some yeast rolls for months now. What time do you get off work Friday?”

“Four-thirty,” I said. “Ben wants to go by the Verizon Store to get a new phone and we’re meeting my parents for supper at Teresa’s Café at six o’clock though, so we’ll be on a pretty tight timeline, why?”

“I’m making Ben some bread and I have a chocolate chip pound cake for him in the freezer as well. I’d bring it by, but Earl’s been having some heart problems and I don’t want to leave him here by himself.”

“We’ll be going right past your house on the way to Teresa’s,” I said. “We can drop by to pick up the rolls and cake. That’s awfully sweet of you to do Georgia.”

“You know when Mama was in the nursing home, Ben visited her every week and she loved your boy better than she did cookies, and she loved cookies. He’s a good boy. I want to do this, and I want to see him.”

“Sure we can come by. We’ll see you a little before six then.”

I called Ben to relay the news. He loves Georgia and Earl. They are a married couple who argue and fuss with each other most of their waking hours. They never had children, but take care of everyone around them. Georgia wrote the cookbook for the Volunteer Rescue Squad Auxillary fundraiser, and Earl ran with the fire department until his legs gave out. He’s a long time member of the community Band. He plays the tuba.

We’ve never been to Earl and Georgia’s House. We either see them at the nursing home, or bump into them at the grocery or hardware store in town. Sometimes, they stop by our house on their way to or from Charlottesville. We spend forty-five minutes listening to their bickering banter, not being able to get a word in edgewise, just listening and laughing, before they reach in a bag and hand us a homemade goodie. They hug and kiss us before they leave. It may be a cliché, but Georgia’s baked goods melt in your mouth. We have fought over the last brownie or piece of spice cake.

On Friday evening, when Ben and I pulled into Earl and Georgia’s driveway, cats scattered. There must have been five or six, all colors, all sizes. Three small dogs jostled for position in the bay window facing us and one jumped up and down at the storm door on the side porch, his head, reappearing in the glass every few seconds. All the dogs barked, non-stop.

Ben and I got out of the car and headed to the front door.

“Back here,” Georgia called from the side porch.

She opened the door for us and when we stepped into the house, both of us stopped. The stench was overwhelming, a combination of cat pee amonia, dog poop, stale urine, canned cat food, moth balls and wet dog. Ben and I exchanged a glance. We turned to the couple and we smiled. They reached out, arms open and hugged us tight.

“Well, look at you, young man. How much taller have you gotten?” Earl asked, clasping Ben’s hand in his and slapping him on the back.

Ben smiled and coughed, his eyes watering. I knew it was the smell, not his emotions. Georgia opened the window over the sink to let a cat in. It walked over to the plate of moist gray meat on the counter and began to lick the food. Georgia petted the tabby absentmindedly.

“What time do you leave to go back to college tomorrow?” she asked Ben.

“Have to pull out pretty early in the morning,” he said. “I’ve got a staff meeting in the afternoon I have to be back for.”

I knew the staff meeting was at 5:00 in the afternoon. It takes two and a half hours to drive back to Ferrum. Ben was warding off a second invite.

While Georgia wrapped and bagged the bread and cake, Earl took us on a tour of the house. There were dogs and cats, litter boxes, balls of fur and chew toys in every room. Cats perched on shelves, under cabinets, acted as centerpieces on tables, padded across counter tops and lazed in window sills. All the dogs followed after us, barking.

“Shut up dogs,” Georgia yelled from the kitchen.

Earl introduced us, “This is Yellow Cat, Bingo, Jeff, Mutt, Punkin, Spot, Dribbles…” On and on he went, picking them up petting and kissing them. Ben and I petted, patted and cooed to them. Earl showed us his framed goodbye poster from his 30 year anniversary party at GE where he spent his working years. We marveled at Georgia’s salt and pepper shaker collection, her cookbook collection and got to see Earl’s computer where he emails forty lonely old ladies around the world, just to keep them company.

“Shut up that barking,” Earl yelled at the dogs. They didn’t listen.

We walked back into the kitchen. Georgia stood beaming, holding out three packages, each with a dozen homemade yeast rolls. Cats had collected at her feet.

Earl pointed to the rolls and said, “I didn’t get anything but a smell. She didn’t even give me one to eat.”

Ben offered him one of the wrapped ones, but Earl laughed and said, “I was only funnin’ you Ben. Those are yours. She made me some of my own.”

Georgia handed Ben the rolls and he leaned down as she stood on tip toe to kiss his cheek. “We love you boy. You know that don’t you? You were so good to my Mama. She loved you too. You take these rolls and this cake back to college with you and share if you want to, but if you don’t want to, that’s ok, you can eat them all by yourself.”

“Thank you Georgia. I appreciate these. That was awfully nice of you to do. Not sure whether I’ll share or not. Your cooking is the best,” Ben said.

Earl walked us out to the car. He showed us where he’d moved six azalea plants that week and where he’d decorated the hay bale with black and orange ceramic cats for the children in the neighborhood. He picked up another cat, Dumpy, and introduced us. “There’s about six others you didn’t get to see,” he said. “They’ll show up tonight when it starts to get cool. They like to come in and sleep with us where it’s warm.” I imagined all those cats and dogs in Earl and Georgia’s bed.

Earl hugged us. We got in the car, waved to him and Georgia as they stood on the porch, smiling, their arms around each other’s waists. Ben and I were silent until we reached the end of Apple Lane.

“Mom,” Ben said. “have you ever smelled anything so bad in your life?”

“No, Ben, can’t say as I have.”

“If I count right,” Ben said. “they have twenty-two cats and six dogs.”

“Sure felt like that many to me,” I said.

“Do you think Earl and Georgia know how bad it smells?

“I doubt it. They’re probably used to it by now.”

“My head hurts,” Ben said. “Do you have any Advil?”

“Sure, right here in my purse.”

He dug around in my purse, pulled out the bottle and threw two of the pills back with some bottled water. He was quiet during the rest of the ride. We rounded the corner onto Three Notched Road and drove toward Teresa’s Café. We were almost there when Ben said, “Mom?”

“Yeah,”

“You know I love Earl and Georgia don’t you?”

“Of course Ben, I love them too.”

“As much as I love them,” he said. “I don’t think I can eat those rolls or the cake.”

“I don’t think I could either Ben. It’s alright.”

“What should we do with them? I hate to throw them out. She spent a lot of time making them.”

“I know,” I said. “Georgia did say you could share. I think that might be a good idea.”

Ben smiled, “Staff meeting tomorrow,” he said.