Lean times, abundant memories, and cherished family recipes.
|Ditch the canned stuff. Nothing is more comforting than homemade cranberry sauce.|
I was born in Natchez, Miss., which means my family is Deep South. My parents were responsible for my Mississippi drawl (I had to come all the way to Texas to hear the term Magnolia Mouth) and my profound faith in the Lord. My grandmother, Mimi, taught me about good cooking, and by example, Southern hospitality.
My memories of Natchez are a bit hazy. We left for Texas when I was 5, parents and siblings heading for Dallas and Mimi to Houston. In the way of material things, we didn’t have much. What we brought with us was better: love and faith. The holidays were lean, but I could always count on my dad’s homemade buttermilk biscuits to be there, warm and flaky on a chilly Christmas morning. He had his own recipe, and when he married my mom and discovered Mimi’s recipe, he took the best of both.
Mimi made the holidays come alive. Every Christmas we drove down to Houston to stay with her. We’d skip rocks in the pool’s apartment complex, and one year when it had frozen over, my dad and I slid rocks and shards of ice over the surface. At night, we’d get in the car and drive through the neighborhoods looking at lights. For Christmas dinner, Mimi would fix a ham or turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, and hot buttermilk biscuits. Of the pies she made, pecan was my favorite. The simple, consistent details that made up my grandmother’s holidays were a blessing.
When I was 16, I left Dallas and moved in with Mimi for a season. It was a hard time for me, and I can’t imagine that it was easy for her, but she made me feel welcome. She cooked for me all the time, and that’s when I first tasted her homemade applesauce. I can still remember the texture of the chunks of fresh apples. The meals that Mimi served for the holidays were always made from seasonal ingredients, and, I now realize, are classic American holiday dishes. At Christmas, we ate like the characters in a Norman Rockwell painting, even if we didn’t live like them. Mimi’s repertoire of Southern dishes, and the way she made a warm home for us every holiday (and my season of troubles), is what hospitality is all about.
Christmas Pecan Pie
Adapted from Mimi’s recipe
(Makes 1 pie)
Single crust pie pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon (pinch) salt
1 1/2 tablespoons shortening
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into cubes
Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Using two knives, scissor-style, cut in shortening and butter until the mix looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle in about two tablespoons of cold water while mixing with a fork until dough forms a ball. Roll the dough ball around to give it a nice round shape then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 to 45 minutes. Roll out dough 1 to 2 inches larger than the pie pan using a floured rolling pin on a floured countertop. Once dough has been rolled out, start from the upper half, and wrap dough around the rolling pin by rolling downward. Unwrap dough over pie pan, and push dough in to fit pie pan. Cut off excess dough from edges. The excess dough can be used for decorations or to make a thicker crust by rolling it into a rope and then placing it around rim of pie pan. Use a fork around the edge of crust to decorate.
Pecan pie filling:
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves, 1 cup chopped, remaining 1/2 cup left in halves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare single crust pie pastry. “Blind bake€VbCrLf pie crust for 10 minutes by covering crust with foil and filling it with weights such as beans or rice to weigh down and keep crust from puffing up. After 10 minutes, remove foil with weights and return to oven 10 to 15 more minutes. If the pastry puffs up, puncture with a knife to let the air out. After the crust has been par-baked, remove from oven, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and mix brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla extract, and eggs, then mix in pecans. Pour mixture into piecrust, and bake on center rack of oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until filling has baked firm. Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely.
Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce
(Makes about 8 cups)
2 1/2 pounds cranberries, stems picked off
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest, grated
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and cook on medium heat, uncovered 10 to 12 minutes, occasionally breaking up cranberries with whisk or masher until sauce thickens to marmalade consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Mimi’s Homemade Applesauce
(Serves 8 to 10)
5 pounds cooking apples, mixed or the same. Peeled, cored, and sliced into eighths.
1-1 1/2 cups apple juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
8-10 tablespoons honey
Place sliced apples, apple juice, and lemon juice in large saucepan. Simmer covered for about 25 minutes or until most of the juices have evaporated and apples are soft and easily broken apart. Sprinkle cinnamon over apples and add honey. Remove from heat and break up apples using a wire whisk, adding hot water as necessary to achieve desired consistency. Applesauce can be chunky or smooth depending on preference. Serve warm or let stand until cool then refrigerate 45 minutes to serve cold.
Dad’s Buttermilk Biscuits
(Makes 8 to 10 biscuits)
2 cups self-rising flour
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
|Homemade buttermilk biscuits|