A couple of years ago I discovered a delicious, long-kept family tradition. While going through family histories and family writings, I learned my Grandmother was known for making raisin pies — especially at Christmas time. I had never had raisin pie and the thought of it sounded quite strange.
But I love a good story, and this pie points me to my story.
It starts with the life my Mama lived as her family scraped out a living from the West Alabama dirt as tenant farmers. Living through the worst of the years following the Great Depression, Mama’s family never had much in terms of a luxurious life. They did, however, have a materfamilias that was resilient, industrious and full of love for her family.
The family tells the story of how my Grandma Pearlie Porter would save raisins, sugar and other ingredients throughout the fall for her Christmas sweet-making. Skimming some off here, stashing some there, she saved until she had enough for her holiday baking. Although she made many Christmas treats, the raisin pie was a favorite (especially to my Aunt Nona Faye, who loves them to this day).
I made one of these pies last Christmas (from Grandma Porter’s recipe), and the result was delicious. A raisin pie is sweet with a bit of a “twang”— isn’t that the perfect Southern dish! The sweetness comes from the sugar and the raisins, the twang from vinegar.
This pie points to a very basic and simple strategy found in much Southern cooking — taking basic ingredients (sugar, flour, butter, vinegar and raisins) found in the kitchens of even the most impoverished and making something delicious out of them. Take my word for it (and my Aunt Faye’s), find yourself a raisin pie and taste the simple goodness of a tenant farmer’s Christmas.
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