Sharing the Good Stuff
Many Southern women claim that they learned to cook at the feet of their mothers and grandmothers. In a sense that's true for me as well - my mother taught me a great deal about cooking - but her knowledge did not come from her own mother. In a round about way it came from my paternal grandmother - the one who died in 1931 a few months before my mother was born.
My maternal grandmother was not a great cook. She wasn't terrible but cooking wasn't one of her talents. My mother readily attests to this. I remember her being pretty good with baking pies and cakes and she was pretty good with canning but as for regular meals, she just didn't have it. I haven't eaten anything cooked by my grandmother since - well, probably since I was in college - and I remember her cooking always being sort of mushy and somehow never tasting quite right. When we visited my grandparents I mostly remember my grandmother doing prep work but the real cooking was done by my mother and her sisters. At the time I'm sure I thought it was just them pitching in to help but now I think it was their way of making sure my grandmother didn't make anything funky tasting. It's not her fault though. My grandmother was six years old when her mother died and she evidently just didn't have anyone to really show her the Southern cooking ropes.
When my mother married my father she wasn't much of a cook either and so she ended up learning to cook from one of my father's much-older sisters, Irene. My paternal grandmother died when she gave birth to my Aunt Cora and since Irene was nearly grown she and one of the other older sisters helped raise both my father and Aunt Cora. Aunt Irene claimed that my grandmother was a fabulous cook and she learned from her and then passed it on to my mother and Aunt Cora and Aunt Irene's daughter, Wanda. It's no wonder that to me their cooking tasted an awful lot alike, although I have to say Aunt Cora could always beat my mother at baking biscuits.
What I love about families is the tradition of teaching younger generations how to cook and sharing recipes. Some of my favorite recipes are ones that came from my mother or my aunts or cousins. I learned some of my Southern cooking skills from Southern Living and church cookbooks but the best ones are the ones passed down to me from my kin and now I'll pass one on to you. This is the recipe for my cousin Wanda's chocolate meringue pie. Everyone in my family loves Wanda's chocolate pie. We all love her chocolate pie so much that when we speak of her we always say "She made the best chocolate pie!".
2 cups milk
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
Warm milk in a saucepan. Combine dry ingredients in bowl. Add enough of the warm milk to the dry ingredients to moisten them and pour all back into saucepan with rest of milk and stir well (I like to use a wire whisk). Heat mixture until begins to thicken. Add some of the hot mixture to egg yolks and stir well. Pour yolk mixture into saucepan mixture and cook until becomes a pudding consistency. Add butter and vanilla and stir. Pour into a browned pie shell and cover with meringue (Click here if you need to know how to make meringue) . Bake at 400°F until meringue is golden. Let cool completely before serving.
As much as our family loves Wanda's chocolate pie, this pie has been the cause of some family strife. Once my sister made a chocolate pie and she, my BIL and my nephew ate about half of it. The next day she had a horrible day at work and she couldn't wait to get home because she knew a piece of Wanda's glorious chocolate pie would improve her dark mood. Sister arrived home to see my BIL eating the last piece of the chocolate pie. My brother had come by earlier and ate about half of the leftovers and my BIL went ahead and polished off the rest. Bad move because a cranky woman cheated out of chocolate pie is a formidable foe. She freaked out for hours over it. About six months later when my sister and BIL were in Germany visiting me my BIL inadvertently mentioned the chocolate pie incident and she went into orbit all over again as if it has just happened. But it's cured my BIL for good. If it were to save his life, he still wouldn't take the last piece of chocolate pie without express permission from Sister.
Enjoy. And share the last piece with your family.