Ghosts of Thanksgiving past: Pumpkin chiffon and eggnog pies

1940s, South Dakota: The first one I remember—sitting on scratchy, horsehair seats in a 1936 Buick, on the way to Sioux Falls for Thanksgiving. The car was full of Daddy’s cigar smoke, the windows were closed, and my two sisters and I were greenish in the backseat. Aunt Margaret was not a good cook—the turkey could arrive at the table dark brown and crisp or squirting pinkish juice when pierced. The only bright spot was Muth’s pumpkin chiffon and eggnog pies.

1950s, Nebraska: Old enough to help in the kitchen, I was wing man as Muth and I lifted the large turkey out of the roaster in the oven. Halfway to the counter, it slipped out of our hands and landed breast-side up on the floor. Even Pre-Julia Child, Muth scooped up the broken bird, quickly put it on the counter, brushed it off, and said, “There, we’ll just carve it here in the kitchen. ”

1970s, Washington: The Sweetie and I—layered in warm clothes, with only our faces exposed, on the forward bow of brother Tommy’s catamaran, drinking instant cappuccinos, slicing through Puget Sound en route to holiday dinner with the family. The big, yellow house on Humboldt Street full of siblings, children, transitional girlfriends, June on her stool in the kitchen, Irv thumping out Scott Joplin on his living room Wurlitzer, every spare chair pulled around the dining room table, the air filled with tall tales and laughter.

1980s, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles: the two Bobs and I on our own—fulfilling our collective childhood Thanksgiving fantasy. We stood around the kitchen counter, eating the uncarved roast turkey with our fingers—no plates, no silverware, no side dishes, no one saying, “Don’t pick at the turkey! Wait until it’s time to eat.”


2000s, Smoky Mountains, North Carolina: four sets of in-laws, my kids, their kids, and local Thanksgiving orphans in a formal dining room sitting around a huge table set with China plates, linen napkins, and crystal glasses—laden with turkey, ham, roast beef, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, ambrosia salad, and Linda’s heavenly dinner rolls.

Thanksgivings come and go but the stories stick around. So invite your favorite people, scooch over to make room, and either cook your brains out or buy it all at Whole Foods—what you eat is the least of it. Go for the memories. Here’s thinking of you, Muth  

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

  •   1 tablespoon gelatin 
  •   1⁄4 cup cool water 
  •   3 whole eggs, separated 
  •   1/2 cup sugar 
  •   1 1/2 cup cooked or canned pumpkin 
  •   1/2 cup milk 
  •   1/2 teaspoon salt 
  •   1/4 teaspoons each, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
  •   1/2 cup granulated white sugar 
  •   Whipped cream

Soak the gelatin 1/4 cup water. Separate eggs, reserve whites in metal bowl.

Beat the egg yolks slightly. Combine beaten yolks with 1⁄2 cup sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt and spices in the top of a double boiler. Cook ingredients over boiling water, stirring frequently until thick.

Stir in the soaked gelatin until dissolved. Remove from the heat and chill until mixture begins to set, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Beat egg whites with 1⁄2 c. sugar. Fold pumpkin mixture into egg whites. Pour into baked pie shell. Refrigerate. Serve with dollop of whipped cream.

Eggnog Pie
  • 1 T. gelatin
  • 1⁄4 c. lukewarm water
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1⁄4 t. salt
  • 1⁄2 c. hot milk or 1⁄2 & 1⁄2
  • 1 t. rum flavoring 
  • 1⁄4 t. nutmeg
  • 1⁄2 c. heavy cream whipped with 2 T. sugar
Sprinkle gelatin on water to dissolve. Separate eggs. Reserve whites in metal bowl. 

Combine egg yolks with half the sugar and beat until light yellow. Add salt and hot milk. Cook in double boiler until mixture coats spoon.

Add softened gelatin
—refrigerate mixture until mixture begins to set. 

Whip egg whites with remaining 1⁄2 c. sugar to soft peak. Fold egg mixture into beaten egg whites. (First lighten egg mixture by whisking in a bit of the beaten egg white. Then fold in the remainder.) 

Add rum flavoring and nutmeg. Pour into baked 8 inch pie shell. Refrigerate. Serve with whipped cream


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1 Response to Ghosts of Thanksgiving past: Pumpkin chiffon and eggnog pies

  1. Jenni says:

    Oh, Marla! So beautiful! Happy Thanksgiving to you and Bob from down the street.

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