Story of the Month: Lisa Vanterpool
For the first 2014 Story of the Month, we are pleased to have found this article by Lisa Vanterpool. Founder of the brilliant and beautiful Flat 8 magazine, Lisa posts stories that focus around the comforts of home from the garden to the boudoir. This particular story, that we have asked her permission to share, takes place in the kitchen – the center of every loving family.
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Lisa M. Vanterpool
My grandmother was good at many things. She used to wear slips to bed every night, which I thought were beautiful even if the hems were often a bit tattered. She’d roll her long, thick salt and pepper hair into pin curls with bobby pins that she stored in an old film container. Every night, she got down on her knees and said her prayers before slowly easing herself between the cool sheets.
She was a good cook and often helped me make Minnie Mouse pancakes and no one could make a sweet potato pie like she could. Filling her small kitchen with the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, I’d sit on the stool next to her with my elbows on the counter watching her every move.
Her firm hands would hold each potato as she slowly peeled back the rust colored skin to reveal its bright orange flesh, easily moving over bumps and imperfections. She’d cube the pieces while showing me what she was doing and casting me smiles out of the corner of her eyes.
She’d fill one of her old, battered pots with water from the tap and slowly walk over the creaky wood floors to put it on the burner and wait for it to boil. She didn’t rush anything. And you would
never find a measuring cup in her kitchen.
You didn’t need to measure anything when you’d been cooking most of your life for a family of ten on tight budget. You were an artist in the kitchen; you got comfortable with having very little and seeing it stretch right before your eyes. Every meal was a bit of a miracle.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of her while she was cooking. She moved with ease and everything seemed effortless. After boiling her potatoes, she’d get out the masher and hand it to me.
I would wrap my chubby little hands around the loose handle and use all of my strength to mash those potatoes. She would see me getting tired, and gently take it from me and I’d see the subtle strength in her arms as she finished up the job, wiping her forehead gently with the back of her hand to wipe away the sweat.
She’d pour and toss in every delicious thing: cinnamon, nutmeg, syrup, milk and butter. And once it was mixed, she’d hand me the spoon for me to do my part. I tasted the sweetness and gave her a big smile.
She would pour the sweetened potatoes into the piecrust, place it gently in her oven and then we’d wait. She would grab her book of crossword puzzles, light a cigarette and mindlessly click through her few channels before settling on Jeopardy and picking up her pen to fill in ‘three down.’ I’d sit next to her at the old dining room table, waving the smoke the away with my hands while playfully chiding her.
“Grandma you shouldn’t smoke.” I’d saying while shaking my head.
I’d play with my paper dolls, tracing their bodies, cutting them out and coloring them in to make them brown just like me. And, when I got bored with that, I’d wander outside to sit on the front stoop and pick the little weeds that grew in between the cracks on the driveway.
A little while later, I’d hear my name called and I’d run inside anxious to get the first glimpse of our masterpiece. And as it cooled down, my grandmother would tisk around the kitchen preparing this and that. Someone would walk into the warm kitchen the smell of the pie certainly luring them in. Most of the time, it was one of her sons calling her by her first name and smiling as they gave her a hard time.
“Boy, don’t you call me that,” she’d laugh and I’d sit from just inside the dining room watching as they playfully swatted each other while she tried to tend to the pie.
And when everything was ready and we sat down to eat, it was in those first few bites and sweet moments that I wished that I had lived closer to her, that I could see her every day and that we could forever make pie together.
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Eula Mae’s Sweet Potato Pie
Note – Measurements are approximations and recipe makes a one 9-inch pie. Trust your taste buds, if you want more, or less, of anything adjust. And, if you have extra filling, feel free to lick the spoon.
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, softened
2- 5oz cans evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Dash of syrup
Dash of salt
Pie Crust (Feel free to make your crust from scratch. Also, feel free to just buy one.)
Boil potatoes in their skin in a covered pot until they are soft and tender. Potatoes should be soft enough to pierce easily. Remove potatoes from the water and allow to cool. You don’t need a wire rack. You can simply rest them on the counter.
When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large bowl. Mash potatoes thoroughly with a potato masher until smooth. Make sure there aren’t any lumps.
Measure 2 cups and put in a medium sized pot with the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt, butter, and one of the 5 oz can of evaporated milk. Cook on low for 5 minutes, and be sure to whip it with a wire whisk, or fork, until it starts to bubble and the butter and brown sugar are melted. Remove from heat and let cool. Give it a taste.
In a medium sized bowl, beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second 5oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar, vanilla and a dash of syrup, to the eggs and continue beating until nice and creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture from pot into a large bowl. Stir in the egg mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour it in the piecrust and bake for 45-50 minutes or until done.
Cool before serving. Enjoy with a dollop of whip cream or nothing at all. It’ll please either way.