We bake and blog (and eat). Though baking takes up a lot more of our life than blogging.
November 11, 2015 / By Brett Braley
The world goes on forever when you live in small towns. Some parts of Indiana look like a prairie and some parts look like a jail cell. It all depends on if you make eye contact with strangers passing by on the street. It all depends on if you can afford the generic medicine at the only pharmacy in town. It all depends on if you can remember the last time you paid your grandmother’s electric bill. It all depends on if you have enough gas in the car to drive to any city that will take you in. Family doesn’t seem that special when the world looks so flat and so wide from the water tower.
My mother said she used to smoke cigarettes with boys on the fence of a cemetery in the summer. She said the world was a panorama back then, and now it’s just full of old, dead trees that fight the corn for sunlight. It was that same summer she had a panic attack in a laundromat and watched Gilligan’s Island in her cousin’s air-conditioned apartment to calm down. By the fall she was living on her own. She worked at a video rental store and a gas station, married my dad and moved to Florida. She doesn’t smoke anymore. She doesn’t consider Indiana her home anymore.
But every Thanksgiving we’d drive west from Pennsylvania. We’d see the eruption of the Alleghenies lay down to slumber on the back of Ohio. We’d fight for room in the backseat of the Pathfinder, the Jeep, even an RV we had once. Whatever we could afford. Whatever was cheap and drivable, sometimes bought in cash from a used car dealership owned by a Mennonite family down the road. We weren’t always able to grasp the idea of family, but each of us understood the meaning of going home.
Each year at Thanksgiving, we would watch the trees in the woods behind my aunt’s house die in preparation for winter and each year we’d hug our grandparents a little tighter around the waist. Each year, my aunt who sold Mary Kay cosmetics looked a little paler until they finally had to buy her a wheelchair. Each year, I would grow a little taller and get a little quieter. Each year, my uncle restocked the freezer on the back porch with Schwan’s Food Company ice cream for my cousins and myself. Each year, I promised myself I’d visit more.
I haven’t been back in seven years now. But I remember everything in the shadow moments between nostalgia and grief. I remember the ham that was cooked in the Crockpot and the can of Coca-Cola for basting. I remember the turkey that was either too pink or too dry and my mother apologizing to everyone who took a piece. I remember the old serrated bread knife with the wood handle for carving. I remember eating on the couch one year when the kid’s table leg broke. I remember spraining my wrist doing cartwheels out by the tire swing. I remember running until I got sick, trying to catch a stray dog that didn’t have a name.
And I saw myself through the world I still stand at the periphery of. My uncle promised the old truck would be fixed by Christmas, red plastic cups littered where he drank at night in the garage. The cat hair that clung to the air mattress, to the condensation on the water glass, to the static on the blue TV set in the back spare room. The steam from the coffee cups and the red nail polish that my mother chewed off when she was nervous around her brothers and sisters. The muddy shoeprints on the kitchen floor after my uncle brought in the groceries. The second trash bag of paper plates, no one really wanting to unload the dishwasher. The two scoops of whipped cream my sister asked for in everything from pumpkin pie to her hot chocolate. Everything in that world was sweet and full of promises. The recycling bins on their side and the trash spilled out in the gutter. Good intentions, no execution.
And I think the only time any of us on my mother’s side of the family ever prayed was right before Thanksgiving dinner. Some of us bowed our heads; some of us rolled our eyes. Others balanced their paper plates on their knees and clasped their hands tight. “Bless this food and our family. And let us never forget where home is.” Sometimes my aunt’s costume jewelry snagged her sweaters and you’d hear a quiet, “Damn it!” after saying grace.
And I don’t think I can ever forget where home is. It’s the Heartland where the pulse beats quickest in an Indian summer, when the crop can grow high and the creek runs fast. It’s where the water tower casts long shadows over the town like a lazy sundial. It’s where my grandfathers own a plot of land called Tanglewood and where my father mowed the same cemetery my mother smoked her first pack of cigarettes. It’s the place I learned to ride a bike. Where my sister lost a tooth and cried for two days. Where my grandfather forgot my name and lost a finger in the same month. Where my mother swears a cardinal followed her home the day her mother died. And the place where I fell asleep on the porch one Thanksgiving after eating so much pumpkin pie, my mother’s flannel shirt wrapped around me, the porch light reflecting on a small pool of oil underneath the old truck that my uncle never did get running again.
Persimmon Pumpkin Pie
Nothing is more traditional and regional to the Midwest than persimmon pudding. Not usually advertised, but always ubiquitous on a Ripley County table around the holidays, this dessert is more bready than your normal custard dish. Baked in an almond meal crust and with the addition of vanilla, pumpkin, and orange zest, it is at once homespun and versatile. A great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner.
Ingredients for Crust:
Directions for Crust:
Ingredients for Filling:
Directions for Filling and Pie: