Grammy's Christmas Pie
A recipe for a delicious holiday tradition
A Christmas Conspiracy
My mother tried unsuccessfully for years to get her mother-in-law to give up her prized Christmas pie recipe. It's not that Grammy ever outright refused Mom; she either pretended not to hear the request or would put it off for another time. "Oh, I'll get it for you later," Grammy would tell her, but later never came.
Finally, my mother had enough of Grammy's rebuffs. She enlisted my help.
"You're going to get that recipe from your grandmother before we go home," she told me matter-of-factly as the family headed out one year to celebrate Christmas at Grammy's. "She won't turn you down."
My mother's plan was solid. Not only did I have something she sorely lacked – a blood relationship to Grammy – the timing was perfect. I was a senior in high school and had taken the blue ribbon for my 4H baked goods entry, French cheese braid, at the Iowa State Fair over the summer. My award-winning showing certainly gave me credibility as a baker in my grandmother's eyes. Also, I'd be headed off to college in the fall and, from Grammy's perspective, what college co-ed didn't require a clutch of sure-fire recipes to help her attain her MRS degree?
I was happy to help, not because I necessarily cared if my mother got the recipe, but because I loved the idea of being a co-conspirator. Never known for my acting abilities – or my subtlety – I started in just as soon as we arrived at my grandmother's house.
"Grammy, did you make Christmas pie this year? You did? Oh, I'm soooo glad. It's my favorite pie in the whole world."
The drama built to a crescendo as dessert was served.
"Mmmm. I just love this pie. Mmmm. This is so good. Grammy, did I tell you this is my favorite pie in the whole world?"
As Grammy rose to clear the dessert plates, I uncharacteristically jumped up to help her. As I followed her into the kitchen, I lowered my voice to a whisper. "Grammy, do you think it be possible for me to get your recipe for Christmas pie? I'd really like to try to make it," I said, adding for good measure, "although I'm sure it won't be as good as yours."
Grammy hesitated for a moment. "Of course, dear," she finally replied. "I'll let you copy it down here in the kitchen."
She consulted a wooden recipe box on the counter and pulled out an index card written in her own neat cursive. At the top of the card she had noted the original source of the recipe, a 1950s-era women's magazine. ("All that secrecy for a recipe from a magazine?" my mother later would remark.) Grammy supplied me with a blank index card and a pen, and watched as I sat at the kitchen table and painstakingly copied the recipe word for word. Returning later to rejoin the others in the dining room, I shot my mother a triumphant look. Mission accomplished.
That was nearly 30 years ago. Grammy's been gone for 20 years, but Christmas pie remains a time-honored holiday tradition served at every family Christmas celebration. This is the recipe I copied down that Christmas day so long ago, with a few modifications by my mother to modernize it.
Christmas Pie: The Recipe
1 tablespoon gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups half-and-half
3 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar, divided use
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, plus a few additional for garnish
4 maraschino cherries, chopped, plus 4 additional cherries, quartered, for garnish
Baked pie crust shell
Combine gelatin and cold water. While gelatin softens in water, scald half-and-half in the top of a double boiler. Remove top of double boiler from heat.
Beat egg yolks. Add salt and 1/3 cup sugar and continue beating until lemon colored and foamy. Add small amount of half-and-half to egg mixture and blend.
Combine egg mixture with remaining half-and-half in top of double boiler and return to heat. Cook over hot water until mixture coats a spoon, stirring constantly, about 7 to 10 minutes.
Add gelatin, vanilla extract and almond extract to mixture and blend well. Chill until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally to speed the chilling process.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar and blend well. Fold the egg whites into the chilled gelatin mixture. Add almonds and chopped cherries. Pour mixture into baked shell, garnish with remaining almonds and quartered cherries, and chill well.
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Do your family have a holiday food tradition? If so, please share it in the comments section below.