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Our Christmas (food) Traditions

The Christmas holidays abound with memories and traditions, many of them grown and based on the foods that bring us together and define us as family.

Growing up Christmas morning meant Mom would prepare a brown-sugar, butter, cinnamon, ooey-gooey Bubble Cake for breakfast. An annual special treat that only appeared on Christmas morning, every childhood Christmas memory I have involves this sweet sticky concoction. Even though forks were encouraged, we commonly burned our fingers, picking at the hot melted sugar unable to wait for it to be cool enough to eat. In the years since I’ve become a mother, I’ve tried to find our own special breakfast, serving several “prepare-the-night-before” breakfast casseroles filled with egg, sausage, cheese, hash browns, or even French toast, but the one dish my children repeatedly ask for is Bubble Cake.

In a nod to our Italian grandparents, Christmas dinner absolutely must include Italian sausage. The accompanying prepared foods are inconsequential so long as the plate of crisp, fragrant sausage has its place of honor. Each year, seeing the Italian sausage at Christmas dinner calls to mind my grandmother’s kitchen table, filled with food, while we wait to be served at the “kids table” on the side. Now I sit at my mother’s dining room table, my daughters and their cousins in the kitchen at their own “kids table.”

The evolution of a newer tradition is one of my favorite Christmas memories, when several years ago our father asked me to try to make a chocolate pie reminiscent of his mother’s pie. We called her on the phone and quizzed her about the recipe, which naturally had never been written down. We took what she said, compared it with other chocolate pie recipes, and that Christmas Eve we got to work, trying to figure out exactly how it should come together and in what order. We threw away two whole pies before we settled on a mixture that had the right consistency and taste. Every year since, I have made the infamous Chocolate Pie for our Christmas dessert. In the spirit of Christmas, I am sharing the recipe below.

No matter how you celebrate Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or who you share it with, the foods you prepare and eat are going to have a very special place, building a foundation of memories that will last for years to come.

(This is a reprint of our submission for the Catholic Foodie December newsletter.)

MERR’S CHOCOLATE PIE
(Marilyn Cathey Henley)

2 cups whole milk
¾ cup cocoa ( can use less for less-rich)
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
4 egg yolks – beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F

Sift together the sugar, cocoa, salt and flour in mixing bowl and set aside.

Separate all four eggs. Set egg whites aside in a large bowl for the meringue. Put the yolks in a heavy saucepan and beat well with a fork or whisk. Then stir in the sifted dry ingredients alternatively with the milk, adding a little at a time to keep mixture smooth.

Cook mixture over medium heat and add vanilla when it begins to boil. Boil, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat – add butter; beat out any lumps that may have formed.

Pour into pre-baked pie shell and top with meringue. Bake in 350 F oven until meringue is lightly browned, 12-15 minutes.

PIE CRUST

1½ cups flour
½ cup Crisco
¼ teaspoon salt (little less)
Dash of baking powder
5-6 Tablespoons ICE cold water

Combine flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in Crisco until coarse crumbs. Sprinkle with water, one tablespoon at a time until moistened. Pat into ball and roll out on lightly floured surface. Put into pan and prick with fork – bake 450 F for 12-15 minutes.

MERINGUE

4 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
5 Tablespoons sugar

Beat egg whites on high speed of electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add cream of tartar, then gradually add sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks. Add to top of pie – be sure to seal the meringue to the pastry edge when spreading it on your pie.

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