Maybe it’s a grandfather’s love that is the missing ingredient to the best key lime pie...
Smells & tastes conjure memories in a most primal way, and can transport us right back to our childhood kitchens. As such, they are excellent jumping-off points for writing or talking about your memories and crafting them into a story for generations to come (not to mention, the kids will be thrilled to have those cherished recipes actually written down).
In this first contribution in our new series, A Taste of the Past, a young mom remembers her beloved grandfather, and the sugary treats he often made just for her. Oh, how sweet the memories...
A Taste of the Past
By Christine Tarulli Mugnolo
I’ve always been a sweets person. That is to say, I’ll be happy with dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I believe I have my grandfather partly to thank (blame?) for that…and for my own sporadic hobby of making delectable treats.
My grandfather and grandmother eloped to Colorado in 1942. Soon after, as an officer in the army, he was stationed in Anzio, Italy, for the remainder of World War II. In between the fighting, Pop did what he did best—he cooked. He became the chef for his fellow officers and higher-ranked officials. And when he was finally home, he was head chef for his family.
There was nothing that Papa loved more than watching us devour what he made on any given day. And he never, ever forgot dessert.
I always felt Pop made dessert especially for me, his chubby, sweets-loving granddaughter. I would sometimes catch him beaming at me, all messy-faced and sticky-fingered. How his smile and hearty laugh would light up the entire room!
While I loved his cookies and his pretty lattice cherry pie, Pop’s key lime pie was my absolute favorite. It was always amazing: thick, buttery graham-cracker crust, sweet yet tart filling, and just a few twisty limes on top as garnishment.
As I got older, the pies seemed to get even more delicious, prettier, and, ultimately, simply perfect.
Pop passed away on December 16, 2001, when I was a senior in college. I was—I still am—devastated. I always will be. We lost our family’s heartbeat, our core, and I lost my Papa.
I think that’s when I started to bake. And I baked all the time then—for my family,
for my friends and boyfriends. I adored watching them taste all the goodness that
I (lovingly) shoved in their faces.
I don’t remember when my grandmother gave me my grandfather’s key lime pie
recipe. But when she did, it was as if she were handing me the damn Holy Grail. It’s been about 14 years, and I still cannot get it just right. I make the pie once or twice a year; it’s my special time with him. No TV, no one else in the room...just the two of us. How I curse that Pop didn’t write down what he really did to make his pie so great!
Eventually, I made my own tweaks. While my pie is good, it’s not as good as I remember his to be…and not nearly as beautiful. But that’s okay; it doesn’t have to be.
I have his—our—faded and butter-stained recipe, which, to me, is more beautiful than any pie. And I take it out every time I make it.
If I could have a few more hours with him, I’d introduce him to my daughter (oh, he would just eat her up!); I’d dance with him and not give him a hard time about it; and we’d bake together, so I could finally learn his secrets to the best key lime pie I have ever had.
Love and miss you always, Papa.
Christine Tarulli Mugnolo is a wife to a traveling husband, stay-at-home-mom to a very active toddler and two rescue pups, and in her spare time, a freelance editor. She thinks there’s no better smell than that of an old book from the library.
Pop’s Key Lime Pie Recipe
1 1/2 packs graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons margarine
8 eggs, separated (yolks only)
2 cans condensed milk
6 ounces lime juice (from about 6-7 limes) or Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice
green food coloring (optional)
To make crust:
Combine graham crackers and melted margarine in bowl, then press into pie pan. Chill 30 minutes before pouring in pie filling.
To make filling:
Preheat oven to 350°
Combine egg yolks with condensed milk in medium bowl.
Mix well. Add lime juice a little at a time until smooth and creamy. Add a touch of food coloring until filling is desired color. Pour into pie shell. Slice a lime very thinly and add slices to top of pie before baking. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.