Tinkering With Tradition

Iím not the first to say it, but tinkering with family food traditions at Thanksgiving isnít too smart.

Weíll be guests rather than hosts this year Ė and Iím not fighting it as I usually do. I know that Iíll be eating my motherís pumpkin pie Ė the one made with scalded milk, fresh ginger and meringue egg whites whipped through the pumpkin. Iím delighted that I wonít have to pretend I love deep fat fried turkey or some unconventional spin on green salad. Iím going to spend the day with Frankís extended family and enjoy some of their traditions, but Iíll have the best of my world, too.

Iím the pie baker this year. One pumpkin, two apple, one pecan, one lemon meringue. Not all of them will be loaded Thursday afternoon into the Toyota. One of the apple pies will go next door, to Jimís. Itís the tart apples on his backyard tree that have added apple pie to our traditional Thanksgiving dessert selection. And itís my kidsí favorite.

The pecan pie is for my husbandís family, whose mother made pecan pie. I never met her or her pecan pie, but 30 years ago I made my first pecan pie and it turned out pretty well. So now itís part of our once-a-year indulgence.

The story today is about the lemon meringue pie. Not too traditional for Thanksgiving. Itís the pie going to my friend who got very bad news yesterday from her oncologist. Her breast cancer has galloped back and will be with her this holiday. And like a bad guest, heís taken up residence.

It was my anything-but-cancer conversation with her leading up to the pie that stayed with me late into the night. It had to do with our parentsí traditions and why, despite their absence, we connect to them around the table through the food they loved. Are we hanging on to something that cannot be duplicated?

Lemon meringue pie was my dadís favorite, a recipe handed down possibly from his mother, Iím guessing. My friend asked if it might have come from the Joy of Cooking, since that was the cookbook of her childhood and what her mother might have used to make the lemon pie she remembered.Yes, that was the pie she wanted. Only that one. No substitutions.

For a moment I wanted to hit the replay button and suggest that she try another flavor pie, introduce her to something new. So much I do not want to ruin whatever memory she has of that pie that must have figured prominently in her familyís tradition.

So, with a broken heart, Iíll zest the lemons and beat the egg yolks and pour it into an 8-inch pie shell, trying not to think too much while Iím at the counter.

And then Iíll deliver it to her, never knowing how it fits into what sheís choosing to hold on to.

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