Cousin Alvine, also known as "Sister", played the organ at church every Sunday. I can't remember a single Sunday from my childhood that she wasn't there, sitting behind the pulpit and to the left of the choir loft in the alcove under a copy of The Last Supper. She had a serious look about her when she played. She would tilt her head back and to the side and her lips would part slightly as if she were faintly mouthing the words of the tune she was playing.
She had a thin frame that made her look tall in my memory. She wore glasses and her hair was pulled purposefully to the back of her head in a bun. The style did not vary that I ever noticed though her hair grew streaked with silver over the years. Aside from those silver streaks she never seemed to age. She looked the same to me and my brother the last time we saw her as she had looked when we were children and my brother walked down the lane to take piano lessons from her some forty years before.
From a distance, with her glasses, her bun and her quiet inclination, Alvine had the look of an earnest librarian. Up close, however, when you talked to her, that illusion melted away. In conversation she lit up and at the slightest encouragement the warmth of her spirit transformed her demeanor from shy and bookish to eager and friendly. She always had a smile and a kind or complimentary word for us children when we greeted her. If we asked her a question her eyes would sparkle.
Sharing the Past
When asked about growing up next door to my Dad’s family her eyes would even harbor a hint of delight. Once she told me:
I remember your grandparents. We kids loved to go back there. Uncle George would play with us out in the yard. Aunt Kate would let Bet and me help her set the big table and do little clean up jobs. She was always laughing and telling us stories.
Your Daddy and his family had to be up early in the morning. They had to put on some old clothes and shoes to feed the cows and milk them, before they could get ready and go to school. I can see them now: hurrying to undress and pitching their old shoes in a closet near the kitchen. Then we had fun walking to school.
The year I left the neighborhood where my grandparents and Alvine had lived the women in the little church I grew up in prepared a wonderful gift for the church family. At Christmas time they put together a simple little book with a line drawing on the front cover and thirty typed and photocopied pages roughly stapled together at the binding. It was titled “Family Memories Cookbook” and included a recipe and a few descriptive paragraphs about a favorite memory for each contributor from the congregation.
Since I had moved away from home earlier that year I didn’t get a copy of this simple cookbook when it was distributed. It was years later, when I was going through the books at my aunt’s house, after she became too sick to go back home for them, that I found this small collection of recipes among her stacks and stacks of cookbooks. Something about it caught my eye and I put it with the books I saved to look through later.
Every time I look through it I am touched by the sweet memories of these dear ladies I grew up seeing every week and yet scarcely knowing. They were familiar faces, friends of my family. Many, I learned later, are even related to me in one way or another. Their pages look fondly on the past, recalling hard times but sweet memories, times spent surrounded by family and tradition and recipes passed from one generation to the next.
In this little book I treasure is a recipe from my cousin, Alvine. She wrote of her mother, my great aunt Lene:
One of my treasured memories is of coming home from school and finding Mother cooking something good for our supper. She knew how hungry we children were and she was happy when she was preparing a good meal for us. This dessert is one I especially remember.I took the liberty of making a few adjustments to her quantities and wording to make the recipe work out in my kitchen. I also chose to add chocolate chips instead of currant jelly between the pudding and meringue. The result was nothing short of wonderful.
A recipe remembered by my cousin, Alvine
2 cups milk
¾ cup sugar
4 egg yolks, beaten
¼ t salt
1 t vanilla
4 cups bread crumbs, (I used pieces of Uncle Hal's Biscuits)
½ cup chocolate chips
4 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
Scald milk. Stir in sugar, egg yolks, salt and vanilla. Fold in bread crumbs (Alvine preferred biscuits broken into small pieces).
Melt butter in the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish.
Pour the bread mixture over the butter in the prepared casserole dish. Place this dish in a pan of hot water. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until firm.
Remove from oven. Scatter ½ cup chocolate chips across the top of the hot pudding.
In a medium mixing bowl beat the egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, a Tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form.
Spread meringue across the bread pudding until it completely covers the top and touches the sides of the pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for another 12 minutes or until browned on the top.
Remove from oven to a wire rack.
Serve warm or cold.