Every year at Thanksgiving, my grandmother used to make a chocolate pie. It was and is my favorite pie. Whether it’s my favorite because I like chocolate or because my grandmother made it every year is a chicken and egg question. But the pie was a family tradition. It represents the holidays, what they meant to me, who I wanted to be involved with, etc. It’s odd how we associate things like a pie with traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there it is.
As my grandmother got older, much older, she stopped being able to make pie during the holidays. It was OK, though, because my family was scattered across the nation, so getting together each Thanksgiving didn’t happen anymore. My brother and sister each have their own family, as do I and traditions change with your immediate family.
When my grandmother downsized from her 1940s ranch-style home in the San Fernando Valley to a retirement community much closer to a few of us, she gave away some of her belongings. I was going through a divorce at the time, and she had helped me out in other ways, but knowing I would be alone (and recommending I do so for a while), she gave me her favorite cookbook.
I spent about a year on my own after my divorce. It was the first time I had been “alone.” Between living at home, living at college, and being married, I had always lived with other people. I started to cook for myself for the first time in my life. I used the recipes from Grandma’s book. The cookbook is called “The Spice Cookbook,” and there’s an inscription from my mother – who gave it to my grandma in 1969, a year after I was born.
I could tell what recipes my grandmother had made because there were notes. I had started making my notes, mainly because the difference in the American palette from 1969 to the late 1990s was salt. They used a lot of salt back then – so my notes were about cutting the salt by 2/3rds.
After cooking for myself for a while, I met a woman who eventually became my wife. But as we were dating, I tried to cook for (impress) her, and I would use the book. She asked to see it and was fascinated because she was quite a cook, as it turns out. She’d worked for craft services in Hollywood and was always looking for unique recipes that she could recreate.
She asked me about a specific chocolate pie recipe; it changed my world.
“Oh my God, does it have notes in it?”
“Yeah, look,” she said.
My grandmother’s notes were all over that page. At this point, I hadn’t had my grandmother’s chocolate pie for several years. Maybe a decade.
“I could make that,” she said.
“You could try,” I said. My sister had tried unsuccessfully to make grandma’s recipe, so I didn’t have much hope that this new woman in my life could do something no one in my family had been able to reproduce. I still had some mysticism and romanticism about my family, somehow knowing things others could not. We feel this way until someone shows us otherwise.
So a few weekends later, my girlfriend, who I already was quite attached to, made me this beautiful chocolate cream pie.
My Childhood in a Single Bite
I couldn’t have told you exactly what the pie tasted like from memory. You see, growing up, you never realize that something as simple as pie could ever not be there. You don’t understand enough about the world to savor each bite, not recognizing that time marches on, destroying all in its path.
It was the cinnamon that hit me. That was the ingredient that made this pie always so memorable. Taking my first bite, my eyes watered up. This woman, who I had only known for a few months, had nailed the ability to remake one of my most fond childhood memories.
I’m not sure if that’s grounds for a love affair, but we’re still together today.
And she’s making me a little pie this year (I need to not eat that stuff at 54 years old) with one tiny modification. A few years ago, she added hatch peppers to a pie after seeing me enjoy some hatch cookies. I’m a hatch pepper fanatic. And as much as I would blindly call it sacrilege to mess with the sacred recipe that is my grandmother’s chocolate pie, it now has hatch peppers each year.
The Real Reason I’m Thankful
And the long way around this story is my ode to me being thankful for this wonderful, caring, selfless woman who became my wife. She goes above and beyond all the time, especially during the holidays.
My grandmother passed away before Christmas in 2000, but not before my wife (still my girlfriend) met her. They got along famously, and I think the two of them had quite a few laughs at my simple palette (I was probably 30 at the time).
Our holiday tradition isn’t founded around family or who will be at dinner, especially now, since it’s just my wife and me normally at the major holidays. Neither of us enjoys the hustle and bustle of going halfway across the country to spend a few hours with the family. And with our kids fully grown and on to their traditions, we’re forming our own, which are quiet, lovely, and involve quite a few cats (not on the menu, of course). But, as I always used to say when I was young, “There’s always room for pie.”
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Thanks for reading. Please subscribe here – let me know if you want the recipe!
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