My Gram was positively cosmopolitan. My Dad’s mother, Gram lived in the city and had an inground pool. In the sunroom, the couch was not a couch, it was a divan, and it was next to an electric organ I was allowed to “play”. Her fridge was always stocked with Tab, and we could drink it with ice cubes in glasses that had that signature smell and squeak you only get from a dishwasher. Her giant television set in its fancy wood cabinet got HBO, so I could watch Fraggle Rock, Teen Wolf (the movie) and E.T. One summer I watched Grease 2 29 times at her house. It may have been the year my Mom was pregnant with my youngest brother, so the count is that of a not-quite 11 year old, and it’s shocking, in hindsight, that I would be indoors for that many hours during the summer… but that’s what I remember. She was a Red Sox fan and an active VFW member, and she took annual trips with Grampy B, her second husband (also cosmopolitan), to exotic places like San Antonio, Las Vegas and Branson, MO. We had epic, hours-long Christmas present openings at her house and a table piled with delicious food on Easter Sunday. Winter afternoons might mean a Yahtzee game at her dining room table and the huge, shaded back deck was a natural gathering spot when the extended family was together in the summer. Memories of time spent at Gram’s house are of lounging and having fun.
We lost Gram five years ago Monday to cancer. The last eight months of her life were confusing and hazy to me, so far away; I remember thinking, and convincing myself, she would be fine because my aunts are nurses and all five of her kids closed ranks to make sure she was not alone, always with someone who could take care of errands, cleaning, cooking. It sounds bizarre, but I was more concerned about my Dad than I was about Gram, upset that he was having to deal with so much stress. Gram was tough and savvy, and I was removed from the situation enough that I didn’t realize a lot of what was happening. Her death was a relief, knowing that she was no longer in pain and her family wouldn’t have to worry anymore. The truth is that, for me, Gram’s absence has been more painful in recent months than it was five years ago. I wish that she could see my brothers, who are so kind and generous; both lived with her at various times and I know how much she adored them and they her. I wish that she could see my niece, and how my sister is as a mother. I wish she could see all the successes my cousins have had in their respective lives. What I would give for a day with her: I would ask all the questions about our family history, her childhood, my Dad as a kid, her travels, things I think about now and can’t ask. An almost constant one-sided conversation exists in my head; if only there was a way to know some of the answers.
But, as a disciple of Pollyanna, I try not to dwell on the what ifs, focusing instead on all the positive memories I mentioned just now. I can still remember her laugh and the specific, unique cadence her voice had when she was saying hello to her grandchildren. I remember the smells of her house: the cool living room, chlorine from the pool, the soap in her bathroom. I don’t usually think of cooking smells, because memories of my Gram are not usually kitchen-related, though she did have some signature dishes; I loved the pan-fried noodles but not the canned peas. For some reason, in recent years I have fixated on the memory of a pineapple pie she used to make. In my brain, it was a specialty of hers, something she made each year for Thanksgiving. I asked around to see if anyone in the family had her recipe and was unable to find it; it seems that few others even remember this pie. How strange, how frustrating, but there’s not much I can do about it and a memory is a memory. I decided this year to make a pineapple pie as a nod to Gram and turned once again to First Prize Pies as a guide. The recipe in FPP uses rum and lime juice, and I was confident that neither ingredient was in Gram’s pie, so I modified the recipe to make something I thought might be closer to hers. It baked up like a dream, smelled wonderful, and my first bite made me burst into tears. Though not exactly the same as what I remember, this pineapple pie had the same aroma and flavor as what I recall of Gram’s pie. My husband, who never tried Gram’s, absolutely devoured the pie I made, declaring it his new favorite. The pineapple flavor is most prominent, and the lemony egg mixture gives it a taste that’s reminiscent of lemon custard pie. It’s tart, refreshing and really good. I am sure that the recipe as written, with lime and rum and no vanilla, is divine, but my small changes turned a wonderful pie into a nostalgic pie, and that makes it really special.
If you were lucky enough to meet my Gram, perhaps you remember her laugh; maybe you spent time with us at a holiday table or took a dip in her inground pool. If you were especially fortunate, maybe you had a piece of her pineapple pie. Not everyone was so lucky, and for that reason, I am really happy to share this recipe with you. As sad as I am that Gram is no longer with us, it makes me feel better to celebrate her memory in small ways, and making pineapple pie is one. Please comment and tell us which dish makes you remember someone special to you.
Pineapple Pie (adapted from First Prize Pies)
- crust for a double-crust 9″ pie (I use the Classic Pie Crust from First Prize Pies and highly recommend it)
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 c. sugar
- zest of one lemon
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 c. unsalted butter
- 1/4 c. flour
- 2 c. chopped fresh pineapple*
- milk to glaze
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Have the dough for the crust made (if you’re making from scratch) or defrosted and keep it refrigerated while you make the filling.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs by hand until they start to froth; add the sugar, lemon juice and zest, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter with the flour; add the butter mixture to the egg mixture and stir. Fold in the pineapple pieces.
Roll out the crust for the bottom of the pie, making sure there’s enough dough to overlap the edge of your pie plate by 1/4″ or more. Pour in the filling. Roll out the top crust with a similarly generous edge and place it over the filling; trim the edges until they are evenly just beyond the edge of the plate. Working around the rim of the pie, lift the bottom crust and fold the top crust underneath, pinching the two layers together as you go. When the crust has been sealed, decorate the edge with fluting or fork marks, etc. and brush the top lightly with whole or 2% milk. Cut steam vents in the top, at least five or six, in a pattern if you like.
Bake the pie for 20 mins. at 425 degrees; place a cookie sheet or piece of tin foil on the rack below to catch drips. (Though mine did not drip at all, it’s better to be safe than have to clean your oven.) Rotate the pie 180 degrees, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30-40 mins. until golden brown. (30 mins. was plenty for me.) When you gently shake the pie plate, the filling (as glimpsed through your steam vents) should not move. Remove the pie to a cooling rack for 30-45 mins. and then refrigerate for several hours to cool completely. Before serving, bring the pie to room temperature for best flavor. You can garnish each slice with whipped cream or ice cream, though I prefer this one plain. Enjoy!
*Fresh pineapple will give you the best flavor, providing it is ripe. Out of season, used drained canned crushed pineapple or pineapple chunks. (But fresh is better.)