April 2020: I was fortunate to have two wonderful grandmothers.
They were completely different from one another, yet they each had unique qualities that I hope rubbed off on me. My paternal grandmother was Mammaw. Her real name was Camilla, but I only knew her as Mammaw. My sisters and I have such great memories of her that we have created a “Mammaw game,” where we ask trivia questions about Mammaw, and we all shout out the answer in unison.
She was one of 16 children, and she was a very strong woman! She lived in a small house in Oklahoma City, just 45 minutes from our house, so we visited her a lot. My favorite time to visit was when I got to spend the night by myself - just Mammaw and me. But, most of the time, my sisters and I stayed at Mammaw’s together. We played in her spare bedroom, where she had a closet full of dress-up clothes, high heeled shoes and Barbie dolls. She had a drawer filled with jewelry for us to play with, including long strings of pearls, clip-on earrings and feather boas. My father’s childhood desk was in that bedroom, and we used it to play school and “office” since Mammaw had a calculator we could use for our pretend transactions. Often, my sisters and I would fight over a pair of shoes or one of the Barbies, and Mammaw would come into the room and say in a high-pitched voice, “Is everybody happy?” She always emphasized the word “happy” with a little more volume. And she always had a smile on her face. How could we not be happy?
Some of my favorite memories of Mammaw were at her dining room table, a round wooden table with six heavy chairs. She had a shelf in her cabinet full of orange Fire King bowls that we ate from at every meal. For breakfast, we had Cream of Wheat, and for lunch, we ate SpaghettiOs. It was a ritual I will always cherish. If we weren’t eating at Mammaw’s table, we were assembling jigsaw puzzles or playing Monopoly. But everything came to a halt at 6 o’clock because it was time to watch Wheel of Fortune. Mammaw had a crush on Pat Sajak, and she was a whiz at answering the puzzles on the show. Her dream was to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, but unfortunately, it never happened.
Mammaw didn’t cook much, but she was really good at heating up cans of soup or SpaghettiOs. She also made us instant pudding, but if she was really feeling adventurous, she made what she called “Mystery Pie.” I think the mystery is that there are Ritz crackers in the mix, but now that I’m grown-up, I know that the real mystery was how Mammaw maintained her zeal for life and her ability to make everybody happy.
Mammaw’s Mystery Pie - Serves 8
Some of my fondest memories of childhood were when I visited my grandmother, Mammaw. When my sisters and I spent the night at her house, one of her favorite sayings was, “Is everybody happy?” She wasn’t much of a cook, but on special occasions, she made a dessert called Mystery Pie. Mammaw died when I was in high school, but when I make this pie, I am reminded of her positive attitude and constant desire for everyone to be happy.
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
25 Ritz crackers, crushed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” pie pan liberally with butter. Beat egg whites with baking powder until soft peaks form. Add brown sugar and vanilla into egg whites and continue to mix until well incorporated. Next add chopped pecans, crushed Ritz and chocolate chips and gently fold into the batter. Pour pie filling to the greased pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. While the pie is cooling, make the whipped cream by combining the heavy cream and powdered sugar together in a stand mixer and beating for 2-4 minutes until peaks form. Serve cooled pie with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
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