“Whiskful Thinking” is a weekly column that explores the very Southern concept of food as a vehicle for history and storytelling. When recipes are included, each ingredient is a snapshot of time gone by, and the finished product conveys the spirit of that moment. “Whiskful Thinking” is written by Le Cordon Bleu graduate Jeremy Green.
Standing in my kitchen late last night, I opened the weathered blue leather book that holds my favorite recipes. As I approached the section that takes account of my culinary endeavors from August 2010, a handwritten note from my Aunt Wissy slipped the pages and fluttered to the floor. In her small, efficient script she wished me well and included some tips for the recipe she had recently told me.
I remember getting that letter. It was as though the small blue envelope that held it bulged with magic. In a way it did: as I read her words I tasted the flavor of beach water sweet tea and her cinnamon rolls. I turned them over my tongue as I read her words, and wrapped myself in her soft and mirthful love.
Aunt Wissy is Miss Eunice’s sister, and they are sun and shadow. In my thoughts, Grandma is Glenn Miller and Wissy is castor sugar and secret confidences. When I was growing up, our mysterious great Aunt Wissy was nearly a spectral figure as we gathered around one cousin’s table or another. In the local lore, she could talk the fire out of a burn and cure a baby of thrush. At each holiday I would look not for her car, but her baking dishes on the buffet. If I saw loaves of bread or heavy, heady pies my heart would race. Actually, I still do that, and it still does.
In her blue papered letter she wrote of the chocolate chess pie recipe she’d given me, “I don’t always have the chocolate squares, so I use the substitute of cocoa and oil if I have to. That’s what you took home with you.” Those words say a lot. They speak to a generation that always makes do. She’s told me all sorts of stories about rationing in the war years, and making something out of not much. “You saved your grease for the war effort, margarine came in a tablet that you mixed up, and the milk was dry,” I remember hearing. Once she told me about using carrots to make candies because they were plentiful and could swap in for fruit. I tried it–carrot fudge is surprisingly delicious.
And here is that recipe. Maybe you’ll get a little of that Aunt Wissy feeling when you make it. Maybe the hair on your neck will raise a little, and your kitchen will take on an oddly familiar scent. Maybe as you stir it together, you’ll feel a part of something rare; part of the women’s lives who have shaped the food-who have shaped the world.
Aunt Wissy’s Chocolate Chess Pie
1 cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
Dash of salt
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter
1 ½ squares unsweetened chocolate
3 ½ tbsp coconut
1 ½ tbsp oil
1 unbaked pie shell
- Mix together sugars, flour, salt, eggs, milk, and vanilla.
- Melt butter and chocolate together in a double boiler.
- Add to sugar/flour mixture, beat well.
- Pour into unbaked pie shell.
- Bake at 325 F for 35-40 minutes.
Wissy’s Notes: “You don’t want it too jiggly. Just a little jiggly.” “When it smells done, it’s done.”
One day, I’ll give you her pie crust recipe so you can have the whole experience.