My Grandmother's Mac-n-Cheese and Chocolate Pies
Have you ever had someone in your life that inspired you to do something? Maybe it was a singer who inspired you to want to sing, or a gardener that sparked an interest to want to plant a garden, or it could have been a person that assisted you along life’s journey and that inspired you to want to help someone else. Whatever the case may be, to be inspired by someone is the process of being motivated by someone to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.The person that I want to introduce you to my grandmother, Lurlene Landers, also known as ‘Maw-Maw Landers’ by all of her grandchildren.
Maw-Maw Landers is the best cook that I know of, (I am a little biased), and she is the
inspiration behind my love for cooking. She currently resides in Weaver, AL., and she is 97 years young. She has two children, 4 grandchildren, 4 great-grandchildren and 2 great – great grandchildren (5 generations)!
She was born in 1922, and grew up in Hollis Crossroads in Cleburne County, AL. While in school, she would study by candlelight. She was also the Valedictorian of her class and graduated in 1940 from Cleburne County High School.
The following are just a few events that took place the year she was born: Warren G. Harding was President, Reader’s Digest and Better Homes & Garden Magazine were first published, King Tut’s Tomb was discovered, the first successful insulin treatment for diabetes was used, and the NCAA Football Champions were California, Cornell, and Princeton. It was also the year the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act was passed which placed a high tax on goods from foreign countries, which they reciprocated, and eventually led to the Great Depression Era.
American life during the Great Depression was very difficult time for families, especially since most people had many children to feed and take care of. Maw-Maw Landers was one of nine children and she would have been a teenager during that era. She has memories of her family churning cream to make their own butter and buttermilk. They would store the buttermilk in the spring water to keep it from spoiling. They raised most of their food from their garden, and they would take the sugarcane to Mr. Bain, and he would make sorghum syrup, which they would eat on homemade biscuits for breakfast. In addition, they would also take corn to the local grist mill to grind it and make meal.
The cooking mastery that she knows today is a wealth of expertise and proficiency which can’t be taught, but it is something that comes with many years of experience. She has set a precedent for us to follow, and I hope one day that I can attain that status. One of the greatest compliments that I could ever receive is, “This taste just like Maw-Maw's!”
Although she isn’t able to cook much anymore, she is still able to answer any questions that any of us grandchildren have about cooking. For example, we might call and asked how much lard to use when we are making biscuits, and her reply might be, “just get out little in your hand,”, or we might ask how much flour and cornmeal to put on the okra for frying, and her reply might be, “just sprinkle a little on there.”
You see, great cooks don’t always have to measure ingredients, they just know how to adjust the right amount of ingredients to make food taste great! A recipe’s rigid instructions and measurements were created to communicate the proportions in the absence of not being able to demonstrate. Recipes are just guidelines, and we have the freedom to change them and make them our own. When you can get comfortable cooking without measuring every little thing, it is #1, easier, and #2, more rewarding to know that you truly created a meal for your family.
That’s what cooks did during her era, and that is why some of my most memorable dishes that I have ever tasted were made by her creative hands. I can remember her and paw-paw canning foods from their garden to store up for the winter months. Canning is a tradition that is slowly dwindling away. Her cooking was truly a “Taste of Down Home.”
One fond meal memory that I have was our ‘Saturday night fish fries.’ My grandfather, Paw-Paw Landers, would catch catfish from the Coosa River that he would clean & skin, and then she would deep-fry them and serve them with hush puppies, fries, and slaw, a dinner that Top O’ The River does not hold a candle to!
Other memorable dishes were her moist and flavorful dressing that she made every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and others such as her delectable cherry cobbler, apple crisp, crunchy fried okra, her mouthwatering homemade chocolate and lemon pies, and homemade biscuits & gravy just to name a few.
I am slowly trying to master making her dressing, but I have not mastered making biscuits like she did. I may just have to throw in the towel on that one. I usually have more dough stuck to my hands than is in the bowl, haha. She would use her hand to mix everything while turning that light pink bowl, pinch off the dough, roll it in her hands, and then lay each one on the pan and pat them with the back of her two fingers.
I wanted to share two of my most treasured recipes from Maw Maw Landers. Her homemade chocolate pies and her Macaroni and Cheese Casserole. My father would always request that she make him the chocolate pies. The Macaroni and Cheese is more like a casserole than the traditional Mac N. Cheese that people think of. However, it is one of my most requested recipes to take to any family or church event. Guests always say, “Greg, bring the Mac N. Cheese.” Your guests will be asking you for this recipe, I promise!
Please read the bonus tips at the bottom for optimum taste and presentation.
You may be thinking that you could never make homemade recipes like the pie below because it might seem intimidating to you. Don’t be afraid to try making something homemade from scratch. Sure, you will make mistakes, I’ve made many, but you will learn from them and one day you will be someone’s grandparent that they brag on because “they were the best cook!”.
Maw-Maw Landers Homemade Chocolate Pie
4-1/2 Cups whole milk
4 – Egg Yolks
5 – Tbsp. Cornstarch
2- Tbsp. AP Flour
6- Tbsp. Cocoa
1-1/2 Tbsp. Butter
2 – Tsp. Vanilla Flavoring
2-1/4 Cups Sugar
½ tsp. salt
2- Pie shells
*(This makes two pies)
Bake pie shells according to package instructions. Cool.
Blend together in a sauce pan the sugar, cocoa, salt, cornstarch, and flour. Gradually stir in the milk.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. (If you don’t stir constantly, it will burn and stick).
Remove from the heat, and stir a portion of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. (This is tempering the eggs. If you put the eggs straight into the hot mixture, they will curdle.)
Then, blend the egg mixture into the hot mixture and return to the heat and continue cooking and stirring until it thickens.
Remove from heat, and add butter and vanilla.
Pour mixture evenly into the two pie shells. Top with Meringue.
4- eggs whites at room temp.
1 – tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. cream of tartar
½ - cup sugar
Allow egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl combine egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar.
Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed about 5 minutes or until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks form.
Immediately spread meringue over hot pie filling.
Bake in the oven on broil for just a minute or two, carefully watching, until the meringue starts to turn brown.
Bonus Tips I have learned:
Room temperature egg whites will beat to a greater volume than cold egg whites.
Add cream of tartar and vanilla before you begin beating the egg whites. Cream of tartar helps to stabilize the meringue.
The sugar must be added gradually while beating at high speed, 1 tbsp. at a time. Adding it too quickly will knock the air out of them and make them collapse.
Quickly spread the meringue over the hot pie filling as it will help to cook the meringue from underneath and prevents weeping.
Spread the meringue to the edge of the pie and seal it to prevent it from shrinking when it bakes.
Maw-Maw Landers Macaroni and Cheese
12- oz. bag of macaroni noodles, uncooked
1 – large box of Chicken Broth
1 – Can Cream of Chicken Soup
½ cup Mayonnaise
4 – cups Mexican blend shredded cheese
1 – small onion chopped fine
4 – slices of Kraft Cheddar Cheese Slices, cut into small pieces
1 or 2 drops of yellow food coloring
Boil noodles in chicken broth until al dente’ , (almost done).
Don’t drain all of the liquid off, just about half of it. (Trust me, it will be dry if you drain it all off).
Mix in all of the ingredients to the noodles except 2 cups of the shredded cheese.
If mixture seems a little dry, add a small amount of milk. Mixture should be a soupy consistency, (Trust me).
Pour mixture into a 13x9 casserole dish,
pour remaining 2 cups of cheese on top and sprinkle with paprika.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
You can vary this casserole by changing, or adding Cream of Mushroom, or Cream of Celery Soups.
This will taste better if you grate fresh cheese, rather than the bagged kind. I just use bagged cheese when I am in a hurry. It does make a difference in taste.
If you don’t like onions, you can leave them out.
Cooking the noodles in chicken broth takes this dish to a whole new level of flavor.
The yellow food coloring is just to make the dish look more ‘cheesy’.
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