I can't talk about pumpkin chiffon pie without first talking about my grandmother. It is, after all, her recipe.
She owned a pie business, did I ever tell you that? In a small town in Idaho in the 1950s. According to my knowledge, it never had a name, but everyone in Bonneville County knew Alta's pies. She made them every day, hundreds in a week, in the basement kitchen of the modest 2-bedroom brick home where she lived with Grandpa, my dad, and his brothers. Dad was her teenage assistant. Working together, the two of them supplied the daily dessert menus for many of the local restaurants and hotels of that era.
Being that I am one of the youngest of Grandma's 20-something grandchildren, my memories of her are likely different than my cousins' and siblings'. In all honesty, many of them knew her longer--and therefore better--than I did. But the grandma I knew was just as real as the grandma they remember. And I think we can all agree that, regardless of how we remember her, she was nothing less than, well, memorable.
I remember boysenberry syrup. Pancakes too, but mostly I remember that syrup. It was like a lollipop in liquid form and we only had it at Grandma's house. Years later, as an adult, I saw it on the shelf once at the supermarket. I read the label--not an ounce of real boysenberry anywhere. Boy, was it good.
I also remember mush. That's what she called hot cereal. "Eat your mush, McGinney," she used to say. I don't know why she called me that. It was most likely a nonsense word she called everyone, even her postman. But I liked it. No one had ever had a (nice) nickname for me before, and it made me feel special.
Grandma was a good Christian woman who drove too fast. I remember once she got a speeding ticket.
She was in her 70s.
She was driving her hatchback at the time. A white Toyota with a stick-shift. No sensible old lady sedan for her, no sir. I remember in the old days before seatbelts became the fashion, my sister and I rode in the cargo space of her car together. I don't remember much besides that, but I know it must have meant something to me because it's one of my earliest memories.
My grandmother was a lady. I know this because she wore suits and high heels and always had Wrigley's spearmint gum in her purse. Sometimes she said "hell" and "damn", which wasn't very lady-like, I guess, but I could overlook it because of the gum, which she graciously shared with me whenever I asked her. (Often.)
The first time I ever made Grandma's pumpkin chiffon pie was in high school. My mom was recovering from knee surgery that Thanksgiving, and so it was just me and my dad in the kitchen. I was trying to be helpful, but as I recall, I was more in the way than anything. I realize now that my dad makes pumpkin chiffon pie exactly the same way he and Grandma made it 50 years ago--
in a hurry.
Since then, I've made pumpkin chiffon pie lots of times. Usually at a much less frenzied pace, however. Which I highly recommend if you decide to make it yourself. (And I readily suggest you do.) The steps can be a little tricky to follow, but don't let that scare you. Just read the recipe all the way through a couple of times before you start, and you should be fine. Also, when dissolving the gelatin, be sure to use warm water. I once tried to dissolve it in cold, and it turned into a lumpy mess. A few of Grandma's choice words + another box of gelatin later and all was well, but I just thought I'd warn you.
Oh, and speaking of warnings. This is Grandma's recipe in its original quantities, so it makes 4 to 5 pies, depending on how big your eggs are and how much volume you whip into the whites. You could halve the recipe if you wanted to, but I never have. And none of it has ever gone to waste, if you know what I mean. It's tradition to eat pumpkin chiffon pie for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving, and friends are always more than happy to help with any leftovers.
One last thing, the graham cracker crust. I'll be honest. I hate making them. Crumbs everywhere. I've included my grandma's recipe but I always use store-bought. I won't judge you if you do too. Or, if you have your own favorite crust recipe, feel free to use that instead. One shortcut I will never condone, though, is substituting whipped topping for real whipped cream at the end. Bad idea. Don't do it. I swear on my grandmother's hatchback, I will hunt you down if you do.
ALTA'S PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE
For the graham cracker crust:
1 cup sugar
4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup butter melted
Press into 4 pie tins and set aside.
For the filling:
1) Separate 6-8 eggs and set aside. In a small bowl, dissolve 3 packages of Knox unflavored gelatin in 1/2 cup warm water. Set aside.
2) In a large bowl, combine the following:
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- egg yolks from step #1
- gelatin from step #1
3) Pour 2 cans of evaporated milk into a large saucepan. Add 1/2 cup sugar. DO NOT STIR. (This prevents the milk from scorching.) Put on high heat.
4) When the milk and sugar mixture starts to warm, scoop 1/2 cup into the mixture from step #2. Beat with wire beater.
5) As soon as the milk and sugar mixture looks ready to boil, remove from heat. Stir #4 (this is the mixture from step #2 with warm milk added) into milk with wire beater. Return to stove and cook over medium heat until it starts to thicken. (Do not overcook.) Remove from heat.
6) Add 1 29-oz. can of cold pumpkin & allow mixture to cool completely in the refrigerator.
7) Beat egg whites until they start to peak. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 - 3/4 cups sugar.
8) Fold #7 (egg whites) into #6 (cooled filling).
9) Pour into prepared crusts. Chill overnight. Smother pie with whipped cream just before serving.
Enjoy and happy Thanksgiving!