#52Ancestors: Mom, Keeper of Grandma’s Awesome Pumpkin Pie & Pie Crust Recipes

My 22nd entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I’m closing the gap at just 1 week behind in this series (the challenge is on week 23)!

Colleen's Mom as a baby
Mom as a baby.

My 22nd ancestor is my Mom, whom I will not identify by name, for privacy reasons, because she is still living. In particular, I am profiling Mom’s awesome pies.

Let me proclaim here and now that my Mom makes THE BEST pumpkin pie and THE BEST pie crust in the world. Hands down. Even people who don’t like pumpkin pie like hers. It is light, airy, and creamy like a custard. Not at all heavy. Mom doesn’t just make a few pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas, she makes about a dozen. Because our family slices her pies into quarters, not the normal six or eight slices to a pie. We like to eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. For several days. And she makes some to send home with each of us kids, and sometimes for her siblings.

But, the best thing about her pumpkin pie — all of her pies — is the crust. The crust is perfectly flaky, very thin, and just melts in your mouth. Sometimes, as much as I love her pumpkin filling, I scrape all of the pumpkin filling off (still eating it, of course!) just to take my sweet time enjoying the crust alone.

Mom's Pumpkin Pie
Mom’s pumpkin pie and mouth-watering crust. This photo doesn’t do her pie or crust justice. This is one she made in a disposable pie plate for me to bring home last Thanksgiving. It’s a big banged up from the long commute home in traffic. But it still tasted perfect! Didn’t last long! Only yielded 4 servings 🙂

Mom learned how to make her perfect pumpkin pie and perfect pie crust from her mother, my grandmother Elsie Charlotte HAYES (1926-1992). Grandma was a terrible cook (terrible is an understatement)! But, the lady could bake…especially pie!

And Mom is the keeper of Grandma’s pumpkin pie recipe (which I still need to learn) and Grandma’s pie crust recipe (I still need to learn this too), which I was shocked to discover a little while back, comes from…<gasp!> a cookbook!

Grandma taught Mom both recipes when Mom was young, and when Mom got married, my grandfather’s foster brother gave Mom this same cookbook as a wedding gift. A Better Homes and Gardens cookbook! I must confess, I was a little disappointed to learn that BH&G is the source of Grandma’s family recipes. I’d hoped these were passed down from her own mother and grandmother. But, these recipes ARE still part of my family tradition anyways.

Mom's cookbook
Cookbook given to Mom at her wedding. The 1966 edition. Inscribed by my grandfather’s foster brother Norm (or Norm’s wife). I bet Grandma told Norm what specific cookbook to buy for Mom, since Mom learned how to bake pies from Grandma, and Grandma used the same cookbook. I blacked out Mom’s name for privacy reasons.

The cookbook is falling apart. The spine is completely broken from decades of being propped open on a kitchen counter while Mom made her perfect pies for the family. I work in a library, and we do book repairs, so I am taking it in to get Mom’s wedding cookbook fixed. Hopefully, I’ll inherit this cookbook. I have her favorite recipes scanned, but I want the tangible book that is stained from decades of use by Mom.

Mom's cookbook
The well-stained page for Mom’s pie crust recipe. Single crust Plain Pastry.
Mom's cookbook
A post-it from Mom marks her custard filling recipe, with modifications.

I really do need to take a weekend day to go to Mom’s and learn how to make her crust and her pumpkin pie filling, audio or video recording her talking me through each step while she recounts memories of baking with Grandma. These traditions and memories are so important to preserve!

Family Recipes: Grandma Elsie Charlotte Hayes’ Chocolate Missouri Cookies

My very favorite cookie in the whole world!
Grandma Elsie

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching this Friday, I thought I would share a family favorite sweet treat that you can quickly and easily make for your own sweetheart, children, or friends…my Grandma Elsie Charlotte HAYES’ (1926-1992) chocolate missouri cookies.

These have been my very favorite cookie since I was a tiny kid! They are heaven. Warm gooey chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal, butter, sugar, vanilla, milk, and cocoa. I make them every year as Christmas gifts, and often for Valentine’s gifts. Or just because I’m in the mood.

It brought me great joy the first time I made these for my step-children after their father and I married, to find they too love these cookies. Grandma’s cookies are now part of our family’s annual Christmas treat making party, where the kids make, bag, and deliver a bunch of candies and cookies to their friends.

My Aunt

I said these have been my favorite since a small child. But it was not until a few years ago that I learned it was my Grandma Elsie who introduced these cookies to the family.

Because it was one of my aunts, Grandma’s youngest daughter, who took over the role of family get-togethers cookie maker early in my childhood. All of us little cousin would anxiously crowd around my aunt’s stove while she made these no-bake cookies…then burn our mouths because we were too impatient to wait for the cookies to cool.

You can read more about Grandma Elsie’s chocolate missouri cookies, and get the recipe, on my food blog, The Taste Place. I don’t want to copy the original post or the recipe in full to this family history blog for fear of getting penalized for duplicate content in my food blogging SEO efforts.

Our son, now in high school (!), is a pro at making these cookies.

What are your favorite childhood recipes that you still make for your own family?

Christmas Traditions: Betty Greene’s Christmas Treats

Christmas, 1974, in South Bend, Indiana.  Dad, mom, me (front left) and Gregg.
The 70’s were not a stylish time in Indiana.  And how fortunate are we today to have instant digital cameras that immediately let you know the picture is off center and you need to re-take it?

Growing up, my mom, brother and I always made iced pretzels and decorated sugar cookies to give as gifts to our friends and neighbors.  Iced pretzels were quite easy (see our recipe at our food blog The Taste Place), but the Christmas cookies were a major production.  In fact, I think my mom started doing the iced pretzels to take up space on the gift plates so we wouldn’t have to make as many cookies!

Maybe some day we’ll post the recipe we used for the sugar cookies, but you had to set aside at least one full day, if not parts of two.  We would make the dough, and then had to let it rest for at least an hour, to let it get solid and easier to handle.  Then came rolling them out on the floured table, and pressing with the cookie cutters.  We had Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa, stockings, bells, stars, and candy canes, and each batch of dough was like doing a jigsaw puzzle as we tried to make the various shapes fit in together as closely as possible to leave as little excess dough in between as we could.  Once the dough cut-outs were lifted out and put on greased cookie sheets and put in the oven, you would re-roll the excess dough (at least the excess dough that Gregg and I didn’t pop into our mouths when mom wasn’t looking) and do it again.  This part could take several hours, as we would do somewhere around a hundred altogether.

If we did this on a Saturday afternoon, then Saturday after dinner would be the decorating.  Or if we did it Saturday night, we’d decorate Sunday after church.  This was the most fun part.  We would make a simple icing with powdered sugar, milk, and food coloring, and always had white, red, green, and yellow bowls to use.  Then we also had red and green colored sugars, cinnamon red hots, and sometimes the multi-colored sprinkle balls to further decorate with.

We always started out working on every cookie like a piece of art, painstakingly icing each one, using multiple colors of icing on a single cookie, and drawing designs on them using toothpicks like a fine tipped paintbrush for accents on Santa’s clothing or the stockings, or the reindeer’s facial features.  But after the first few dozen, things tended to get sloppy as the novelty wore off and the latter cookies tended to be mono-chromatic with a random shake or two of sprinkles on it.

Mom working on the cookie decorating.
Notice the elaborate cookies on the left, versus the slapped together versions on the right…

We’d then deliver our plates of cookies and pretzels door to door to some of our closer neighbors, and I know my mom took them to her Bible Study friends as well.

I did the decorated cookies with the kids for years, but more recently with Colleen we’ve done the less labor intensive, but still very pleasing other treats to give to friends–peppermint bark, Missouri cookies, bourbon pecans, peanut brittle, and, of course, my mom’s easy iced pretzels!

The picture of mom above decorating cookies may be the worst of her ever, and if she were alive today, she’d probably kill me for posting it, but it’s the only pic I have of her doing Christmas cookies.  So I’m making it up to her here by posting this random picture of her looking hot.  ;-D

Christmas Traditions: Maria Nieto Robledo’s Tamales

Maria Nieto Robledo (1887-1974).

Homemade tamales are a Christmas tradition in many Mexican families, and my family is no exception. I can’t remember a single childhood Christmas, and very few adulthood Christmases, without my dad making the wonderful savory tamales (with the world’s most perfect masa) that he learned how to make as a child from his Mexican-born grandmother, Maria “Nana” (Nieto) Robledo — who in turn, learned how to make them from her own mother, Maria Aurelia (Compean) Nieto.

About seven or eight years ago, my father decided to start hosting a massive extended Christmas tamale-making party for our extended Nieto and Robledo family, to carry on the memories and traditions passed down by my great-grandmother Maria Nieto.  We haven’t been able to host it the last couple years, due to recent family hardships, but this event has come to be our family’s favorite Christmas activity — and I think my entire extended family of Nieto and Robledo cousins would agree.  We laugh, cry, eat, drink and share stories about Nana and her children.  We make sure Nana won’t ever be forgotten.

If you’d like to enjoy some of our family dishes passed down or inspired by my Nana, you should try Dad’s Red Chili Sauce or our Holiday Pork Posole.

Dad makes sure the tamales get just the right amount of masa and fillings…just like Nana taught him.
We get a house full of four generations of Nietos for tamale day.

Biographical Snapshot of Maria (Nieto) Robledo

My great-grandmother, Maria Nieto, was born October 28, 1887, in the municipality of Armadillo de los Infante, located in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The village in which she was born is referenced as Tomascal in my records, but is also spelled Temascal and Temazcal in other sources. She immigrated to the United States circa 1915-1916, settled in Los Angels County, California (Long Beach, Glendale, then Norwalk), and died in 1974 (when I was a child) in Norwalk, California.

View Robledo-Greene Family History in a larger map

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