I made White Pie this week for my dad’s birthday. I wasn’t with him to celebrate. In fact, he lives 266 miles from me and I don’t remember the last time we celebrated his birthday together, but every year I make a lasagna and a White Pie for his birthday just like my mom is doing in her kitchen 266 miles away. (You’ve probably never heard of White Pie. I’ve never known anyone outside my own family to make it either but it is a white, sugary confection that is my dad’s favorite.)
It’s funny— the way food connects us to family. The way a certain taste, the smell of spaghetti on the stove, or the sight of strawberries in a bowl on the table can take me back 20 years to my grandmothers’ kitchens. The way a turkey sandwich in the summer reminds me of days sitting on beach with my family and playing endless Spades tournaments.
I may live away from my family today, but in the lonely, homesick moments I pull out the cookbooks ﬁlled with our family favorites and I go back home.
I pop corn on the stovetop and over salt it just a little so I can tell my girls, “This is the way your Great Papa Sandifer used to make popcorn and he’d put a quilt in the yard so we could look at the stars while we ate it. I wish he knew the two of you! He would pull you into his lap and tickle your legs. He would hide Easter eggs you would still be looking for the following year. And you can NEVER put food in tupperware containers that look like this because they will always remind you of Papa’s tobacco-spit cups.”
I sneak carrots into my spaghetti sauce, not because it’s a great little trick to ensure my girls eat their veggies, but because my Mimi made her sauce that way and I have never had another plate that tasted or smelled like hers. When I smell that spaghetti cooking I feel my heart break just a little and tears slip down my cheeks as I mourn the loss of my conﬁdante, knowing she and I will never sit in her recliners having deep conversations about school, relationships, and the latest Reader’s Digest feature story. My girls will know her but not the way I did. They will never experience the rich joy she took in her children and great-grandchildren. But they can taste her spaghetti and vegetable soup, and we can toast saltine crackers with peanut butter and giant marshmallows for snack and they can catch a glimpse of what she gave to me.
I ﬁx bowls of ice cream and laugh as I remind my girls not mistake ketchup for strawberry syrup like their Old Papa. We giggle as my toddler reminds me for the 752nd time that he spilled his water all in his plate on our last visit and it ﬁlls me with joy when she looks at me and says, “Mama, I want go to Old Papa’s howzzzz.” Me too, honey. Me too.
I pick up Nonna before we head to the strawberry patch because fresh strawberries will always remind me of her garden and the bowl of powdered sugar sitting on the Lazy Susan just in case hungry grandkids wanted to taste the treasures they plucked from her garden. I set strips of ﬂowery dough on the kitchen table for my girls to practice rolling out while Nonna sits on the other end of the phone talking me through each step so I can be sure my Chicken and Dumplings taste just like hers. (And all you people that eat Red Velvet with Cream Cheese icing? You’re crazy! Buttercream is the way to go!)
At the Farmer’s Market I skip the shelled peas and go for the ones in the hull, smiling to myself as I run by Publix for a paper sack and remember so many days walking into the homes of my grandparents and being told to “grab a bowl and a sack and come shell with me”. The irritated, black thumbnails were worth every conversation.
I search junk sales for cheap, ﬂimsy, old cookie sheets because they are the only kind you can use to bake my mama’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (And you absolutely must blend your oatmeal in a blender. The food processor just won’t get it right.) that I will serve you on my great-grandmother’s dishes.
So many tastes, smells, and ingredients to connect me to my family and take me home. To remind me of stories told around the table, of holidays together, and love that has never wavered. So many recipes to pass to my own girls, memories to create, and a table that is beaten and scarred, covered in glitter and paint specs, and looks so small to me but will be remembered as so big in the minds of my girls.
- ¾ box of powder sugar
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 2 small packages Dream Whip
- 1 tsp vanilla ﬂavor
- 1 tsp almond ﬂavor
- 2 frozen pie crusts
- Bake crusts according to package instructions. Mix sugar and cream cheese. Prepare Dream Whip according to box instructions and add ﬂavorings. Combine cheese mixture with Dream Whip mixture. Mix well and pour evenly into pie crust. Chill for one hour or until mixture is ﬁrm.