Friday, May 5, 2017

Family Reunion

My family has dwindled down to just a few individuals, but it was once quite large, and we would have a yearly reunion where several hundred of my mother’s relatives would gather for photographs, celebrating new additions, and a time of remembering.

My mother’s mother was born in 1893 and was the last child of a very large family.  Her mother passed away when Granny was just a few months old, and her father remarried and raised another large family.  My own mother was a late child, and by the time I came along, the family was huge.

My mother’s cousin Winnie decided in the late 1950’s to have a family reunion.  Many of my grandmother’s generation were now in their 80’s, and Winnie thought it would be great to bring everyone together one last time.  Little did she know at the time, this reunion would take place every year for another 18 years before time took its toll. 

Many of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters made it past the century mark.  At the last reunion, one of her older sisters, Annie, had her photo made with her daughter, grand-daughter, great-grand-daughter, and great-great-grand-daughter.   Five generations.  Amazing.  But just as amazing was the fact that Annie’s mother/step-mother was still alive at the time, and she ultimately out-lived a number of her children.  She was well over one hundred twenty years old when she passed away.

Those reunions are long over and few, if any, of the descendents other than my two siblings and myself remember them.  The three of us gathered together a couple of years ago (as we try do every few years) and reminisced about the old reunions.  We remembered the washtubs filled with ice water and Dr. Peppers, Nehi and Grapette sodas, RC Colas, and Big Reds.  There were always piles of fried chicken, potato salads, cakes, pies, and other things, but all we could remember were the sodas and the piles of fried chicken, potato salads, cakes, and pies.  Lots of pies.  Oh, the pies! 

Even the names of everyone are fading after all these years.  The three of us could remember only about fifteen or so of our grandmother’s brothers and sisters, and no more than about ten of the descendant’s names (other than our own, of course).  We had to look on one of the ancestry sites to come up with the names.

One of my grandmother’s older brothers was John.  His wife was Gertrude.  I wrote a little bit about her and her pecan pie in “Dessert Wars.”  But she had other pies that were just as good.  This one she always brought to the reunion, and this is the recipe she wrote out for me.  After John died, she made no more pies.

Chess Pie

Mix some sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt, and add some eggs and butter.  Cream well, and add vanilla and lemon.  Mix and pour into an unbaked pie shell.

Just like her ‘Circle X Pecan Pie’ I wrote about in “Dessert Wars,” this recipe was from a very experienced cook who worked more by habit, feel, and intuition than anything else.  Below is how I remember her making it, and I think this recipe is extremely close to hers, but no matter how hard I try, it will never be just like the ones at the reunion.

Chess Pie

    1 ¾ cups sugar                                               
    2 tablespoons all purpose flour                                
    1 tablespoon cornmeal                                           
    ¼  teaspoon salt                                              
    4 large eggs                                                   
    ½ cup melted butter                            
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract                                         
    1 teaspoon lemon extract                                       
    1 (8-inch) unbaked pie shell

Mix together the first four ingredients, and add the eggs and butter.  Cream well, and add the vanilla and lemon extracts.  Mix and pour into an unbaked pie shell.  Bake at 375F for about 45 minutes.  If the crust starts getting too brown, protect the edges with some aluminum foil.  Keep a close eye on the pie after 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

I’ve seen a few recipes for Chess Pie over the years, and most contain milk or buttermilk.  This does not and I always wondered about that.  Anyway, this is how she did it, and it was always the first pie to disappear.

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