Jackie Garvin, the Florida blogger behind Syrup and Biscuits, shares how her grandmother taught her about love through clotheslines and custard pies.
My grandmother was my inspiration for cooking and all things domestic. She instilled in me the importance of cooking good food and the appreciation of simpler things like a clothesline full of laundry flapping in the breeze. On Mother’s Day, I certainly remember my mother and I joyfully recall one of my favorite memories of my grandmother.
In the mid to late 1960's, my grandparents were finally able to afford a washing machine. That simplified their lives to some degree because it meant no more lugging everything (and everybody) to the laundromat. However, it presented another challenge. Now, washday had to be scheduled around the weather. They couldn't afford the dryer to go along with the washer, so the clothes were solar dried.
On this particular day, we were up bright and early to start the wash and get it hung out because, as she said, "it looks like we might have a cloud comin' up.” The first load out of the washer was plopped into a big green plastic clothesbasket.
Granny grabbed her apron that held her stash of wooden clothespins, tied on the apron, and we both lugged the basket of clothes to the backyard clothes line. As she picked through the basket of clothes to give me the "easy" ones to hang out, she told me to reach in the apron, grab a handful of the wooden clothespins, and pin them on my clothes, making it easier for me to have access to them.
My bundle of wet clothes to hang consisted of handkerchiefs, undershirts, and socks. As I struggled trying to manage the wet clothes and keep them off the ground and on the clothesline, I noticed that she moved deftly and swiftly, not missing a beat. Her clothes were perfectly straight with similar types sorted and hanging together. Meanwhile, I manage to get three handkerchiefs and two pairs of socks up during the time it took her to hang the rest of the clothes.
I don't know what it is about seeing clothes flapping in the wind hanging on a clothesline, but something about the sight of it appeals to me. Clotheslines are not allowed in most neighborhoods. Some consider a clothesline tacky; but it's not the clothesline itself that I love to see, it's the clothes swaying back and forth in the breeze. Especially white clothes. They almost glisten in the sun. Nothing smells better to me than bed linens that have been line-dried. Snuggle up in bed, take a big whiff of that clean fresh scent and your mind is cleared and ready for sleep. It's like a magic potion.
We got the last load out of the washer and almost finished getting the clothes on the line, with no evidence of imminent rainy weather. It appears our timing was perfect. Granny said, "Let's go in and get our dinner started. I've got a new pie recipe I want you to try to make for us."
Dinner to her meant the noon meal. This is a holdover from times when farmers needed their largest meal in the middle of the day to carry them through the very long and tiring workday. We entered the back door to the kitchen, she opened a drawer and handed me a piece of paper written in someone else's handwriting that said:
Blender Custard Pie
1/2 c. flour
2 c. sweet milk
1/2 c. butter
Blend in blender. Pour into pie pan.
She gleefully explained to me that you don't even need a pie crust or a mixer to make this pie. And you don't mess up a bowl because you put everything right in the blender. Glancing at the recipe, I saw only a few ingredients and a few words and thought the pie must be really simple. She set about her little kitchen gathering ingredients and implements for me.
I sat down at the black and white enamel table in front of the pie safe that held the remnants from breakfast, bacon and biscuits, and maybe some cornbread from last night’s supper. She instructed me to reach in the safe and get me something to eat because she knew I must be hungry.
She was right! A cold biscuit and bacon hit the spot. As she placed a pot of Southern peas on to cook, I started measuring ingredients for this magic pie. Eggs, flour and milk were measured directly in the blender. Next was sugar. Um—there was no amount. "Granny", I asked, "How much sugar do I need to use?" She answered, "Well, shug, it's just owin' to how sweet ya want it. I usually put in about a cup and a half, maybe a tad bit more." With a cup and half of sugar measured and poured in the blender, I next unwrapped a stick of butter, a half cup, and threw the stick into the blender with the rest of the ingredients. She scowled.
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"What did I do wrong?" I asked. She replied, "You've got to melt that butter."
I looked back at the recipe three more times, and still didn't see a word about melting the butter. And the stick of butter was swimming around in the blender with eggs, milk, and sugar. Nothing else to do but to fish it out, melt it in a pan on the stove in the absence of a microwave, and let it gain re-entry into the blender.
The next ingredient said, "vanilla flavor.” Oh, brother! As if she could read my mind, I heard: "Just put a capful of vanilla in it."
All ingredients of the magic pie were now present and accounted for. The blender whirled until everything is consolidated. I carefully poured the mixture into a deep dish pie pan and placed it in a 375˚ degree preheated oven for.........how many minutes? Good grief!
Responding to my question, "How long do we bake it?” she said, "You just have to know when it's done."
And I thought this was going to be easy.
The pie finished baking in about 55 minutes. It was a perfect finish to our meal of salmon patties, peas, and cornbread. I've made Granny's magic pie many, many times since that day. Having a granddaughter of my own now, it will be a happy day when I can teach her to bake the magic pie.
I won't hold out on the ingredient amounts, either. My Granny wasn't doing that to be mean and hard to get along with. That was the way she cooked and the way she taught me to cook. She just reckoned you had enough sense to know basic things and didn't see the need to tell you something you already knew.
So, when my granddaughter Ella gets in the kitchen with me, I will have the recipe written on her own special recipe card that she can keep forever and ever. On second thought, I'm passing down the recipe card that I have right now that has yellowed and shows food stains. I think that will mean more to her.
Gosh, I wish I had a clothesline.
Jackie Garvin is an Alabama born and raised, award-winning author and cook. She is the author of the popular Southern food blog, "Syrup and Biscuits", and two Southern-inspired cookbooks: Biscuits and Sweet Potato Love. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and Basset Hound, both of whom are well fed.