Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Little Slice of Heaven

Although mother got the recipe from her mother, I never remember them at my grandmother's house. I do remember my aunt making a coconut or lemon version, but the memory is faint, and it may feed more off of stories heard than substantive experiences.

Mother would always make two, and it usually involved company coming over, or taking them somewhere. And with six of us in the house, 16 lottery slices were never enough. Since it was a stove top recipe, the sign was always clear that she was making THEM, if the crusts cooking in the oven weren't signal enough. And if you played your cards right, you could be in the kitchen to perhaps get a lick out of the pan, or off the beater if meringue was to your liking.

The chocolate cream pies were most often made to take to the Sunday dinner on the grounds. I learned at an early age to eat dessert first. If you waited until "dessert time", you would hunt down her white corning ware pie pans and see only the cornflower blue design on the bottom, the slices of pie themselves having long gone to rest on someone else's plate. Surely there wasn't anything wrong with proactively commandeering a little slice of heaven on church grounds.

I began baking and cooking in college, but didn't launch into my own version of the chocolate cream pies until several years after I married. After all, I was content to sit back and let mother and/or my older sister provide them for our family gatherings. And I still knew to go quiet, grab early and eat dessert first. But we eventually moved out of the family nest and so I guess I began making the pies myself around 1991.

I will concede that it is a finicky recipe, given that it is a custard and must be rendered at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time at just the right dew point. But, oh mercy, if you hit it right, it sure is divine. And, if it doesn't set up well, we've all learned it tastes just as good off a spoon as it does off a fork. 

Mother gave me a cookbook for my 25th birthday that held a pie crust recipe I could effectively manage. Steve's grandmother taught me how to pick a crust up off the counter using my rolling pin. But I began tinkering with the recipe not long after my first or second attempt, because I wanted that pie to set up, and I wanted more of it in a pie shell.  

At some point, I picked up a deep dish pie pan from Williams Sonoma and before we left The Woodlands in 1997, I had made peace with the recipe - having conquered it effectively enough to have recurring success and having tweaked it a little to make it better. 

I have two early vivid memories of me making it - having it at Thanksgiving one year with the Crums and Uncle Mark and then taking it to the church for the Gullo family meal following Austin's memorial service. I can still hear Lee and Kristi commenting on how good the pie was and how even the meringue was so tasty. And I remember Donna telling me how she knew the pie was homemade, based on my thumbprints on the crust, and how eating that old-fashioned pie was such a comfort on such an incredibly difficult day.

I've moved around this 'ole state, living in five cities, but I've taken that pie recipe with me to every home we've occupied, every church we've attended, every group where we've gathered. It has served me well.  I even made four one morning to take to work for my boss's 50th birthday lunch. She requested it, letting me know it was the best chocolate pie she's ever had.

My boys have grown up on it, just as I have, seeing the marks of the pie in the making, hoping against hope it's for us here at the house, licking the pan, eager for the first piece long before it has cooled down and set up. 

And I guess, of all the times I have made it, or want to make it, or hope to make it, the times that I am making it for my family are the best times. I love how they love it as much as I love it. I love that when I am making my pie, that I am making a pie that my grandmother made, that my aunts made, that my mom makes to this day, that my sisters make to this day. It's our own little tradition, this little slice of chocolate cream heaven.

Family Recipe ~ our Chocolate Cream Pie ~ September 2012

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Carta Bella

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