I made strawberry pie today. It’s been such a long time, I pulled out my old recipe card, to confirm the ingredients. That card was written by me over 40 years ago. My handwriting that of a young woman, I remember sitting with my mom, Phyllis Ann Allen Hembree, as she listed the ingredients. This was her recipe, and the recipe of her mother, my dear grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Allen. I have made it many times, both with my mom, and by myself. As good as this pie is (and it’s really, really good!*) the memories of cooking together, eating it ice cold and smothered with whipped cream, with a soft, crumbly crust, after a big family meal, makes it so much more satisfying than just a great strawberry pie.
That got me thinking about all of the wonderful memories made in and around the kitchen.
There was sitting around on hot summer afternoons ‘hulling’ peas, fingers turning green or purple, depending on the variety. Listening to the adults talk, watching the dented metal washpan become full of what would soon be cooked for supper, and watching the pile of ‘leavings’, empty hulls, strings from beans, snapped off ends, again depending on the variety, and the odors, of living plants, sweet earth, and hard work.
After dinner, of course, there were the dishes. To us children, the dirty dishes appeared to cover every surface, piled high like a fantastic scene out of some of the kitchens in Disney cartoons. No automatic dishwashers then, just the many hands of the various and sundry grandkids. From age six on, we would all take turns. I wasn’t very tall, so I would stand on a chair at the white porcelain covered sink cabinet. The soapy water was in that same dented metal pan that had been used earlier to hold freshly hulled peas or beans. Next to the sink was another washpan that held clear water for rinsing. That water got changed as it became too soapy. Dishtowels, thin, printed sacking material, were wielded by the drying crew. Dishes that weren’t clean were sent back to the hapless dishwasher, fingertips pruny and back sore from bending over the sink. Just when the crew thought we were done, the pots and pans would begin marching toward the sink, much harder to wash, scrubbed over and over ’til they shone. ‘Put a little elbow grease into it,” my dad would say. Then he would point out a spot I missed.
Recently, I wanted to recreate a little of the feeling of a family dinner, vegetables cooked fresh, homemade casseroles, roast beast (Sunday dinner beef roast), garden fresh sliced tomatoes, biscuits, homemade preserves and jellies, farm butter, and homemade desserts: chocolate cake, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, and cookies. While adults sat around snapping green beans, kids ran through the house, and the newest grandchild, my great-nephew John Luke Styes, played on a blanket on the floor. We hosted a houseful: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grand babies. The next generation sat around the table, piled on the porch, scattered across furniture in every room, and chowed down. It felt wonderful.
Dirty pans, not so much…
And the dishes? Well, now there’s an automatic dishwasher, and paper plates and plastic cutlery. We used multiple crockpots, so dirty pans, not so much. The kids and grandkids did do some of the dishes. But then we sent them off on a scavenger hunt. We are starting some new traditions, making some new memories. Like the cauliflower cheese casserole**, instead of traditional mac and cheese (which everybody LOVED! At least, they all wanted the recipe!)
My Dad, Sam Hembree, was there (and no, he didn’t make me rewash anything!) but Mom wasn’t (we lost her on June 9, 2014), and strawberries weren’t in season, so dessert wasn’t strawberry pie, but it still echoed with the history of family gatherings, and the promise of a future with many more.
*Mom’s Strawberry Pie
Quart of strawberries, rinsed and hulled.
2 tablespoons arrowroot (or cornstarch)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 3oz box strawberry gelatin (regular OR sugar free works fine)
2 pie crusts, pre-cooked
While the pie crusts bake, mix up and cook the filling:
Combine arrowroot (or cornstarch), sugar, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until it thickens and becomes silky looking. Add the strawberry gelatin, stirring rapidly. The mixture will begin to become glossy and clear.
Place the berries bottom up in the two pie shells. Cut up the smaller berries to fill in between the larger berries. Pour the glaze across the berries slowly, and make sure to divide the sauce evenly across the two pies!
Chill for at least an hour, slice, smother with whipped cream, and enjoy!❤️
**Cauliflower ‘Mock Mac’ and Cheese
Kosher salt, as needed, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
Coconut oil (to oil the dish)
1 can coconut milk (or heavy cream)
3 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup finely diced red onion (or Vidalia onion)
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar, plus 1/2 cup for topping the casserole
1/4 c real bacon pieces, optional
1 teaspoon paprika or chili powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
How to combine:
Steam the cauliflower and drain. Set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk the coconut milk (or heavy cream), cream cheese, Dijon mustard until combined and simmering. Add the garlic powder. Add the cheese and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in the onions, bacon bits, and paprika (or chili powder), and pepper. Add the mixture to the cauliflower.
Use the coconut oil to oil a 9×12 casserole dish. Pour the cauliflower cheese mixture in the pan. Top with the 1/2 cup of reserved cheese. Dust with a little bit of paprika. Bake in a 350 oven for about 10-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.