Jocelyn Delk Adams Shares the Story Behind Her Grandmother's Egg Pie
My Big Mama's favorite dessert was egg pie. I didn't remember this until after my grandmother died, when I rewatched a video that I'd made with her about two years earlier. During our informal interview, I asked her several questions about her childhood, the immense challenges of growing up and raising a family in the Jim Crow South, and (of course) how she learned to bake. We sat comfortably in her natural element, the kitchen, and chatted while I documented her history and she baked biscuits from instinct. Hunched over the stove smiling, she brushed them with butter as the scent of bread swallowed the room whole.
To know Big Mama was to adore her. Every time I hugged her, I simultaneously breathed in a whiff of her perfume and a baked good, whatever tickled her fancy to create at the time. Her skin was golden bronze melanin, and her spirit glowed even brighter. She seemed quite fragile when we had this conversation, but even at the age of 90, her memory was pristine.
When I asked her about her favorite thing to bake, the answer surprised me, and her eyes lit up as she talked about it. "I just love egg pie. There's nothing like it," she said. The truth was, I'd never had it before. What was egg pie? As she talked about it, I realized how unassuming it is: simple, classic, uncomplicated. It doesn't have the grandeur of a towering coconut or caramel cake, but the magic is in its humbleness.
My Big Mama, born Maggie Mae Thomas, grew up during the late 1920s and 1930s in Mississippi, and her father had a farm that her siblings worked on. Being one of the youngest children, she didn't help in the field. Instead, she prepared the meals. She cooked supper for everyone, always making sure something sweet also graced the table. Fresh eggs, milk, and butter were plentiful due to their glorious supply of chickens and cows, so egg pie, with its at-hand ingredients, became a mainstay. When supper was ready, she would ring the bell for her daddy, brothers, and sisters to run in and eat. I imagine how special a treat like egg pie must have been after they had labored intensely in the fields all day. Its custardy, smooth filling and flaky crust made it irresistible.
Many years later, when I started baking with my Big Mama on visits to Winona, Mississippi, we focused more on making things like sour cream pound cake and homemade vanilla ice cream. On Thanksgiving, sweet potato and pecan pies stole the show, and at Christmas, we had Big Mama's tea cakes and my mom's 7Up cake. Egg pie unfortunately got lost in the shuffle.
But Big Mama never forgot its significance. She passed away just after Christmas two years ago, and I realized then that her favorite dessert needed a prominent place in my recipe arsenal too. Now, we make it every Christmas. The ingredients come together quickly and effectively, and small hints of vanilla and ground nutmeg give it more depth and personality. Egg pie has become my Big Mama's legacy, with each slice representing a small piece of who she was, and I will continue to serve it to honor her for years to come.