Aunt Hen was my guardian. I always felt that was an interesting title. As a child I sometimes turned that word over in my mind thinking about what it meant. I knew it was official because it was something she would write down on paper and my Aunt Hen wouldn’t write down anything if it wasn’t true. My Dad was out of town at least one night every week on business and when he was gone my aunt would sometimes have to sign papers for school or a note for the bus driver. When she signed those notes she sat down at the head of her dining room table and carefully wrote out her whole name. At the end, in parentheses, she would add the word guardian.
In some ways I was troubled by that parenthetical note. The formality of that designation seemed to add an unnecessary weight to the process of gaining permission. It suggested someone might question my aunt’s authority on it’s own. What’s more those parentheses seemed to point me out as being different. No one else I knew of had anyone to sign papers with parentheses at the end of their name. All I really wanted in those days was to blend in and be like everyone else.
On the other hand, having a guardian was always a comfort. While I wasn’t really sure what all of the legal implications of having a guardian might be, if nothing else, having a guardian meant I had someone to go to in times of need. It meant someone had my back.
Angels in the Kitchen
Throughout the years Aunt Hen continued to have my back. Even after I passed the age of needing a legal guardian she was there for me. When I was scared or lonely or just needed advice she was only a short walk or, later, a phone call away. Whenever I had a nagging question about what or how something should be done she was usually the one I would turn to, especially when it came to matters of the kitchen.
Angel Pie is a recipe Aunt Hen sent to me in one of her frequent letters a few years after I moved away from home. She recommended it highly and knew I would like it. With only some slight variation, it combines two of my all-time favorite recipes: Aunt Hen’s Chocolate Bar Pie nestled into a crust of my mother’s crunchy sweet Meringue Cookies. The result is a pie that strikes an elegant balance between light and satisfying.
Today would have been Aunt Hen’s 102nd birthday. It has been nearly two decades since she passed on to dwell with the angels. That doesn’t mean I don’t still take those matters of the kitchen to her for advice. When I wonder what to make for dessert and need a recipe that is classic, dependable and not too complicated I know where to turn. Usually the answer is right there in Aunt Hen’s own handwriting.
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
½ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces chocolate (I used dark chocolate)
3 Tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cream
Preheat oven to 300F.
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form.
Add sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in sliced almonds and ½ teaspoon vanilla.
Turn meringue mixture into a lightly greased 8-inch pie plate. With a spoon, make a sort of nest of the meringue, building up the sides to the rim of the pie plate, forming a thick pie shell. Bake in a slow oven, 300F, for 55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
In a small saucepan or the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate, stirring over moderate heat until the chocolate is soft. Add 3 Tablespoons hot water and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Blend until smooth. Set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer until stiff. Fold the cooled chocolate into the whipped cream. Spoon mixture into the meringue pie shell.
Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.
Serve and enjoy!