The Unexpected Package
Those of you who listen to National Public Radio know about StoryCorps. It began back in 2003 with the opening of a story booth in Grand Central Terminal in NYC. Two people enter the booth and record an interview or shared story. The taping is housed by the Library of Congress for posterity. The mission of the non-profit StoryCorps “is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
I usually choke up when hearing most of the stories. This weekend was no different as I listened as Pfc. Roman Coley Davis told the story of a package from home that changed his life and gave him hope. At the time, he had been stationed in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, for over a year.
“We were essentially in a black zone,” he said. “If you walk outside of the wire, there’s almost a 100 percent chance that someone’s dying or coming back wounded — if you come back.”
He was homesick and “feeling lost.” That was when a package arrived from his grandmother: “It was this big, huge thing wrapped in aluminum foil,” he says. “I take off this layer of aluminum foil, and there’s more aluminum foil, and like 30 layers of foil and plastic wrap, and this, that and the other.”
His “Mema” had sent him her famous sour cream pound cake. This was the cake that she prepared for people who had lost their mothers. She gave it to people who were grieving and in pain. And now she was sending it to him.
Davis took his combat knife and sliced the cake into large chunks so everyone on his team received a piece:
“I ate mine first — and I cried. I think that if we had dined in her kitchen the moment that it cooled and she took the towels off of it, it could not have been as fresh as it was there on that mountainside. . . . For that one moment, I felt loved, even though I was lonely. The pound cake was clean, even though I was so dirty. It was cold, and that pound cake warmed me. . . . It was just like Mema was there.”
When he returned home, Davis enrolled in culinary school and became a chef. However, in telling his tale, he noted that he has never been able to make a cook as good as Mema’s.
The story got me thinking about MY “Mema” and HER pound cake. It was the best in the world and just thinking about it fills me with love and longing for my Gran.
A few weeks ago, I made a lemon meringue pie for a class at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill. The recipe was basically the one on the Eagle Brand Condensed Milk label (of course, I tweaked it a bit). The additional time to make a homemade crust with real butter and the extra egg whites for the meringue along with the extra lemon juice led to the creation of something special, based on the reactions of the 45 people attending the class.
Perhaps you can find time this week to prepare this special, home-made April dessert for your family. Then sit back and watch those happy faces. I think you will find the time well-spent.
Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie
For the crust, you need 1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full sheet graham crackers), 8 TB melted unsalted butter, 1/3 C granulated sugar. If you’re starting out with full-sheet graham crackers, you can use a food processor or blender to grind them up. Or crush them in a zipped top bag with a rolling pin.
Mix the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and granulated sugar together with a rubber spatula in a medium bowl until combined. The mixture will be thick, coarse, and sandy. Press the mixture into the bottom of the dish or pan and slightly up the sides. This crust will fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Make sure it is tight and compact. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup. The crust will be thick.
For the filling, separate 3 large eggs. In a bowl, mix 3 egg yolks with 1 can eagle brand condensed milk, and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice. Whisk until thick. Pour into graham cracker pie crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 5 – 10 minutes on lower rack. With electric mixer beat 5 egg whites and 1 tsp. lemon juice until frothy. Add 1/3 c. sugar and beat until medium peaks form. Remove pie from oven, top with egg whites and return to oven until meringue is lightly brown (around 10 minutes).