Grandma Helen's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Thanksgiving always makes me think of my Grandmother Helen. She loved to cook. No, she loved to cook for others. She didn't make fancy things, she didn't try out new recipes with strange ingredients, or look to follow trends. She made traditional recipes - casseroles, pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and pies, always pies. With traditional, family recipes and comfort foods at the center of attention, Thanksgiving was her holiday to shine.

Every Thanksgiving my Grandmother and her two nieces, more like sisters as they were close in age, would cook. Everything. My Mom always handled the bird and was the gracious host (no small feat) but all the cooking was done by my Grandmother, Ruth and Janet. I remember the hum of the kitchen before the meal, pots clinking, oven doors opening and closing, instructions being given for stirring the gravy, and laughter, always laughter. A few years ago my Grandmother passed away and Ruth and Janet moved far away and we were left to figure out new Thanksgiving routines and traditions. That first Thanksgiving without the three of them was tough. I remember my Mom turning to the new generation in the kitchen (myself, my sister and sister-in-law) and asking "How do you make the gravy?" We all just stared at each other with blank expressions. Someone gave it their best shot but it was a far cry from what we knew.

Since that first year on our own, we've figured out how to put together a decent Thanksgiving dinner. We've assumed new roles and taken over favorite recipes. My sister has mastered the mashed potatoes (and I dare say they are as good as Ruth's!), my aunt does the cranberry mold with aplomb, my sister-in-law handles the greens, my Mom stilll handles the bird, and Ryan makes a mean stuffing (his recipe is decidedly updated from Stouffer's, but I think Grandma Helen would have liked it). And I have taken over the task of making the pumpkin pies. Not just any pies, Pumpkin Chiffon is what Grandma always made and what we're all forever biased to prefer.

This pie is no simple task, as I've learned about pretty much all of my Grandmother's recipes. I wish I had learned them straight from her. I had the chance to learn a few recipes from her (the most amazing Snicker Doodle cookies - have to post those soon!) and a few others. But all of her recipes are a bit of a mystery because she didn't really follow them to the letter. She would add a pinch of this here, a pinch of that there, and when you asked her why or how much, she would just shrug and say you just have to know what it needs. Not my style of cooking or baking. I'm a scientist, after all. So with all of her recipes it has taken a lot of practice and do-overs. I think I've finally got this pie recipe down (as I type this I am nervously waiting for the pumpkin mix to 'mound' slightly!). I'm still working on her Christmas fudge recipes. I'm going to keep trying because she made the best fudge I can remember.

So here is my Grandmother's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, with as many notes as I know to include to make it fool proof. If you try it out at your next holiday gathering, you won't be disappointed. Family recipes, even those that require a little extra TLC, are well worth the effort.


2/3 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored Gelatin
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
3 slightly beaten egg yolks (save whites)
3/4 cup milk
1 15.0 oz can pumpkin
1 t vanilla
1/4 cup sugar

Vanilla Wafer pie crust (follow recipe on box of Vanilla wafers or Graham crackers)

Prepare pie crust and allow them to cool. In large sauce pan, combine sugar, gelatin, cinnamon and salt. Slightly beat egg yolks and combine with the milk. Add eggs and milk to the sugar/gelatin mix and begin to stir. Turn the heat on low and stir constantly until the liquid begins to thicken slightly. It is important to keep the heat low, otherwise the eggs will cook. It can take around 10 minutes for the mixture to thicken. Stir in the pumpkin and vanilla until well mixed. Place the sauce pan in the refrigerator to chill, continue to stir often until the mixture mounds slightly.* On average, this take 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir in 1/4 cup of sugar, carefully blending into the egg whites without disturbing the peaks. Add the egg whites to the pumpkin mixture, folding the mixture together until well mixed. Pour into the pie shells and place in the refrigerator until serving. This can be done the night before to allow pies to set up. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Grandma Helen always made the real deal - it tastes so much better than the stuff in a tub!

This recipe makes one pie, but I usually double it.
*If you are familiar with how egg whites look when they are stiff, mounds will look similar except not quite as stiff. If you move the spoon around and see thick ripples or an indent where you removed the spoon, this is the mound stage.
**I am not much of a pie-maker and do not have a proper pie plate. If I did, it were make for better pictures. My sister has my Grandmother's recipe for Butterscotch Cream pie and if I get around to making it and posting the recipe, maybe I could justify the purchase of a real pie plate.


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