Christmas Traditions

Nov. 15, 2023, noon

When I was growing up, my mother and my Aunt Bibby were fabulous cooks. You already know about my Aunt Bibby's yeast rolls. Well, my mother's claim to fame as a cook was her caramel pie.
My mother died in February of 1975. In the months that followed, I searched through my mother's recipes to find her caramel pie recipe. No luck.
At Thanksgiving that year, we all went to my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Rayford's house. At dinner, my Aunt Phyllis served caramel pie. It was delicious and I told her so. She said thanks, that it was my mother's recipe. I was thrilled! I told her how I had searched but couldn't find mother's recipe. I asked her if she would give the recipe to me and she said.......wait for! She informed me that it was a secret. I couldn't believe it!
When my children were young I was working the election polls at the elementary school with a retired home-economics teacher, Nell Watson, and as we visited, I told her this story about my mother's pie. She told me she had a recipe that was an old-fashioned pie and sounded like my mother's.
See, my mother didn't use any caramel candies. I distinctly remembered mother browning sugar in her cast-iron skillet and adding it to the custard.
This lady, her name was Nell, gave me the recipe and though it wasn't the exact same and it took years to tweak it so that it was just like my mother's, it finally was, and for all of our holidays I make this pie.
This Thanksgiving I am going to make 3 of these pies – two in graham cracker crusts and one in a regular crust.
I hope you and your family will enjoy it as much as my family does.
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 large egg yolks – save the whites for the meringue
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pie shell, cooked and cooled
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
To make the pie: 
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together 6 tablespoons of the sugar, the flour and the cornstarch until no lumps remain. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and egg yolks, then stir into the cornstarch mixture.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened.

Meanwhile, in a non-stick skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar over medium-low heat. Let the sugar melt and caramelize until it turns golden brown, occasionally swirling the pan. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool slightly. Whisk in the butter until well-combined.
Pour the caramel into the pot with the custard. Whisk until the caramel is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, then pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust.
To make the meringue: In a mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar. Beat with a mixer until stiff, glossy peaks form when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes.
Spoon the meringue over the pie filling. Using a flat spatula, spread the meringue to the edges first, taking care to seal the meringue to the crust. Work inward with the spatula until the entire pie is covered evenly with the meringue. Use the back of a spoon to push gently into the meringue, swirl and then lift, creating peaks.
Bake the pie until the meringue is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
Cool the pie on a rack for about 30 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight before serving. If you don't do this, it will run everywhere when you cut it. Ask me how I know. :)
Another Christmas tradition in our family is peanut brittle. Nell also taught me how to make her peanut brittle. She made me come to her house three times to make it before she would give me the recipe. It is delicious and I make it every Christmas for my family and friends. When my husband was still working I would make 40 batches at Christmas for him to give out as gifts. Now, I give the recipe to you.
By the way, she is also the lady who gave me the idea for this class. I told her I had been searching for a class to help me to learn how to cook better, can things, etc., but with no luck. She said to me, “Why don't you start one?” I told her I was too young and inexperienced (I was in my 30s) and I needed older women to teach me. But I put a pin in this idea. After my daughter went to college, I was asking the Lord what I could do with my time since I had a lot more free time and this class came to my mind. I am very thankful to have had Nell in my life.
Nell's Peanut Brittle
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup water
2 cups raw peanuts
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Put sugar, salt, syrup and water into a heavy saucepan and set over medium high heat.
Bring to a boil and cook until it spins a thread. No need to stir.
Add peanuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture becomes light brown and the peanuts begin to pop.
Add the butter and vanilla and blend quickly.
Then add the soda and remove from heat stirring quickly and thoroughly.
Pour onto greased cookie sheets - not spreading - and let cool.
Break up and put in airtight container.