A Catholic Home - Giving thanks for family traditions

Photo: Rachel Bauer Photo: Rachel Bauer

Eucharistia is Greek for ‘thanksgiving’

Thanksgiving is almost here, and in the Cleaveland household, the small details about the holiday make me happy as I remember close family moments and traditions.

As a nation, we gather around a Thanksgiving table laden with good food. We remember the kindness of the Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims survive. We give thanks for our families and blessings. Indeed, the national holiday ties in well with our Catholic faith, Eucharistia being Greek for thanksgiving.

I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner since 1975, the year my mother-in-law handed it off to me. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but I was anxious that I wouldn’t live up to the family’s traditions. I shouldn’t have been so worried.

I’ve forgotten details of the dinner, but I am still acutely aware that God was in our midst. Dorothy Cleaveland was dying, and I was eight months pregnant with our third child — yes, a time for sadness, but also a time to reflect on God’s plans for each of us.

So I incorporated Cleaveland family traditions with my take on the holiday. In particular, I took my mother-in-law’s recipe for turkey stuffing made with dried bread cubes, butter, onions and tart apples, but I jettisoned the usual pumpkin pie and made eggnog pie from a recipe I had acquired from our landlady in the early days of our marriage.

Over the years, that eggnog pie has become a family tradition alongside the dressing, fruit salad, green beans, homemade yeast rolls and turkey — so predictable, yet so full of the memories that bind the family.

Eggnog pie

family praying at Thanksgiving
Photo: Rachel Bauer
  • Standard single pie shell, baked and cooled
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg yolks, separated from the egg whites
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 unflavored gelatin packet
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 tablespoons rum or vanilla flavoring
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Nutmeg to sprinkle on top

Scald milk in a double boiler.

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add to milk and cook until thick and smooth. Stir constantly for about 5 minutes.

Beat the egg yolks. Add a small amount of the creamed mixture to the eggs and then reverse, slowly pouring the eggs into the hot creamed mixture and always stirring with a wire whisk. Cook for a minute or two. Remove from heat.

Dissolve the unflavored gelatin in the water. Add it to the hot creamy mixture and stir with the whisk so the gelatin is distributed throughout. Then add butter and rum or vanilla. Put the mixture in the refrigerator
so it can cool, but check on it from time to time, again stirring with the whisk.

Beat a cup of whipping cream and two egg whites in separate bowls. The egg whites should form stiff peaks. (For a long time, I worried about raw egg whites and salmonella. Now I wash and dry the eggshells before I crack them open. Most of the bacteria live on the shell, and I never use an egg that has the slightest break in it when I take it out of the box. Or use pasteurized egg whites. They won’t form the stiff peaks as well, but they will keep you safe from salmonella. If you use pasteurized whites, add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.)

By now you should have three bowls: the whipped cream, the beaten egg whites and the cooled creamed mixture with the rum. Fold the whipped cream and the egg whites alternately into the creamed mixture. Pile the resulting mix into a cooled pie shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg and park in the refrigerator for at least three hours. Overnight is better.

Northwest Catholic - Nov. 2014


Janet Cleaveland

Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.


Website: blogs.columbian.com/small-plates/author/jcleaveland/