The most amazing smells are wafting forth from my tiny kitchen. Sitting here in the quiet of the moment enjoying my coffee, I savor the smells and the memories they evoke. Later today the Sweet Potato pie I am baking will be served with love to my Daddy. What has now become a holiday tradition began as somewhat of a challenge.
Long ago as a young wife and mother, I tried so hard to make delicious food items to take to the Thanksgiving dinners we attended at the homes of relatives. Back then, my self worth was heavily dependent on the opinions of others......now, not so much! For months I would scour magazines and cookbooks looking for the "perfect' recipe with which to garner praise.....and would inevitably be unable to produce the side dish or dessert which would have everyone clamoring for more.
I remember one holiday finding a recipe for a caramel layer cake that looked divine and which I was sure would be a hit. I gathered all the ingredients in preparation of Thanksgiving and studied the recipe until I had almost memorized it. My heart soared in anticipation as I made that beautiful cake, 'from scratch,' as we like to say here in the South.....this would be the year...this would be the dessert which would bring joy and satisfaction to all!
Thanksgiving Day arrived. We all gathered to enjoy all the traditional foods..a nice roasted hen because my mother doesn't like turkey.......Cornbread Dressing from my Grandmother's recipe, Giblet Gravy, canned Cranberry Sauce in slices, Green bean Casserole prepared by my now ex husband because frankly no one made it like him, my Deviled Eggs which my children loved, Potato Salad like my Italian Nonna made.......the table groaned with food....and after the meal .....so did we all.
There wasn't much lag time as the table was cleared and my Mama started offering dessert.....and we had choices there as well......Coconut Cake.....Pecan Pie....Pound Cake......and this particular year, my Caramel Cake! For those who aren't aware of how we do things in the South......you don't choose just one....you have to have "a little taste of it all." There were oohs and aaahs all around as the 'sample' plates were tasted.....then I made the fatal mistake. I asked how my cake tasted. Amidst the general comments of how good it was I heard....."it was alright."
To say it was "alright" was to mean that slice would be eaten but another would not be requested....I was crushed. Then my Daddy said, "it sure would be good to have a piece of Mama Shaw's Sweet Potato pie right now." Mama Shaw was my Daddy's grandmother on his mother's side. She passed away the year after my oldest child was born and to my knowledge there wasn't a relative living who had a copy of her recipe. But in my mind, a challenge had been issued.....and if anyone was up to the challenge....it was me.
I told no one of my intention but got right to work trying to find a recipe which would match in taste and presentation to Mama Shaw's Sweet Potato Pie. Recipe after recipe was read and compared and discarded.......then the week before Christmas I stumbled upon a cookbook I'd overlooked before....one in my own collection. The battered and food stained Auburn Cookbook given to me as a wedding gift had produced many wondrous dishes for our family through the years.
Reading the list of ingredients and directions for preparation, I thought, "Yes, I can see a Georgia grandmama putting this together for her family." So Christmas morning, after the children had joyfully begun playing with all the bounty Santa had brought......I made a Sweet Potato Pie. And as it cooked and filled the kitchen with the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg.....I made my Deviled Eggs.
Fast forward through Christmas dinner where once again we all ate more than our bodies were used to eating.........to dessert......there was Lane Cake, Fruit Cake, Pecan Pie, Chocolate Pie, Pound Cake and sitting humbly in the center of all the richness was my offering, Sweet Potato Pie. No one asked for a slice.....but I didn't care....there was really only one slice I wanted to serve.
I cut my Daddy a piece and quietly set it in front of him. "Try this Daddy. Let me know what you think." He took a nice healthy bite and chewed. I saw it in his eyes first. "Where'd did you find Mama Shaw's pie recipe?" he said as he continued to eat the slice of pie until there was nothing left but a few stray crumbs left scattered across his plate. "You just have to know where to look I guess."
"Well, nobody else gets any...that is MY pie now."
With that pronouncement, a warmth stole across my heart.....because I knew he meant it. He has never been one to issue false praise just to make someone feel "good." He says what he really means.....and although it took years for me to appreciate that, I now treasure that part of my Daddy's personality. All those years I craved "praise" to make me feel worthy are no longer important because now I know Truth is so much more valuable.....and every year when I make Daddy's Sweet Potato Pie I am reminded of that fact.