Cooking-Related Keepsakes and Karen Phillips' Pie Plate

When I started asking people about their keepsakes a few years ago, I learned so many of us women treasure items that had previous lives in the kitchens of our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. We hold onto cooking-related heirlooms like rolling pins, pans, cutting boards, and aprons. I'm not surprised. After all, some of my most beloved memories emanate from my grandmothers' old country kitchens. In the South, food and heaps of home cooking equal love, and both of my grandmothers loved everybody who stopped by their houses.

This is a bowl I took as a keepsake from my Grandmother Lanier's kitchen after she died. In its heyday, I'm sure it held millions of peas and butter beans. And I love to think about all of the hands that touched it as they passed it around the table, spooning vegetables onto their plates. It's cracked and stained but still has great value to me. I loved those people, and I carry a million memories of them around with me each day.

This is a bowl I took as a keepsake from my Grandmother Lanier's kitchen after she died. In its heyday, I'm sure it held millions of peas and butter beans. And I love to think about all of the hands that touched it as they passed it around the table, spooning vegetables onto their plates. It's cracked and stained but still has great value to me. I loved those people, and I carry a million memories of them around with me each day.

I can still hear their voices saying, "Have some more. There's plenty." I can still see the tables jammed full of platters and bowls of fresh, Southern delicacies. Much of the food was fried— plucked piping hot from the grease of a black iron skillet.

I have a cracked serving bowl that once graced my Grandmother Lanier's kitchen table. Tiny lady peas, brown field peas, and butter beans swimming in a shimmery broth were staples at Grandmother's house, so I feel certain that the little bowl held millions of peas and beans in its lifetime. I wonder how many times it was passed around the table. I think about my Papa Lanier's hands cradling it as he dipped peas onto his plate. After Grandmother died and her house outside of Metter was abandoned, I found the bowl pushed far back in a dark cabinet as if it didn't have any value. To me, it was priceless. I saved it that day.

Karen Phillips has a few cooking-related, kitchen-related keepsakes, too.  She wrote a keepsake story about her grandmother's pie plate. Karen infused her story with great imagery like "a kitchen forever filled with the fragrance of love" and the "glorious fluff of her mashed potatoes." And I love the fact that Karen started her story making a pie from her grandmother's hand-scribed recipe.

Karen Phillips wrote a story about her grandmother's pie plate—a beautiful tribute to "Ma." I love the yellowy glass of yesteryear. Her story begins on page 128 of Project Keepsake.

Karen Phillips wrote a story about her grandmother's pie plate—a beautiful tribute to "Ma." I love the yellowy glass of yesteryear. Her story begins on page 128 of Project Keepsake.

Like so many of the book's story contributors, I met Karen through the Chattanooga Writers' Guild, a wonderful, nurturing group of writers who inspire me every day. Karen has participated in a few Project Keepsake events in Northwest Georgia. I'm always happy to see her face in the audience, and I love to hear her read her story. She is one of the kindest people I have ever met.

Karen's story starts on page 128 of Project Keepsake. Thank you, Karen!

As I topped the lemon meringue pie for my mother’s eightieth birthday, my eyes caught on the fluted-handled edge of the glass pie plate. It came from my late grandmother Ma’s kitchen, forever filled with the fragrance of love. Before my mother made it, Ma had created this same pie, and it was her worn recipe in her own handwriting I followed.

The same glass dish had nestled chocolate pie, coconut cream pie, and steaming apple pie. The dish filled my brain with a hundred other aromas—spaghetti, mashed potatoes, candied yams, divinity candy, and spice cake with caramel icing, to name a few. The tangy smell of lemons wafted through my kitchen and carried me back to the small white frame house on Prater Road.

From my earliest memories, I associate Ma with food. In those days, it was a mom’s or grandmother’s best way to communicate love for her family. Though her kitchen was tiny, my brother and I loved to breakfast at the small table, which now serves as a desk in my own kitchen. Nestled in the rear corner of the house, the kitchen boasted two windows allowing sunlight to stream in and make a small space cheery. Ma made homemade biscuits, golden brown with fluffy middles, for us to heap with her milk gravy made from bacon drippings or to butter and slather with honey or red plum jam.

Family gatherings or messy recipes called for an apron, because in Ma’s day, ladies did not wear anything as tacky as sweats around the house. Ma wore aprons she stitched herself, usually from a floral print or plaid fabric dominated by her favorite color, pink. Though I never wear them, I still display two of her aprons.

Standing on a chair in Ma’s kitchen, I helped as she creamed the butter and sugar in her old Hamilton Beach mixer for a moist pound cake. I supervised while she and my granddad Grangie spooned out the divinity candy that had to be cooked on a dry day and tasted as sweet and pillowy as I imagined a cloud would.

My brother and I, spending nearly every Friday night of our childhood at Ma and Grangie’s house, thrilled when we heard and smelled the buttermilk-and-flour- dipped fried chicken sizzling behind the kitchen’s swinging door. The Colonel had nothing that compared to Ma’s fried chicken, nor did he serve those freshly snapped Kentucky Wonder beans with the October bean “shellies” that Ma simmered for hours on the stove. Oh, the glorious fluff of her mashed potatoes!

Before the time of electric ice cream freezers, Grangie hand cranked the homemade fresh strawberry ice cream that Ma whipped up with smashed fresh strawberries, milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. We could hardly wait for the paddle to come out to scrape it with our fingers and taste the strawberry creaminess.

Everything tasted better at Ma’s—even the store-bought foods.
— Karen Phillips from Project Keepsake

Yes, there are other cooking-related keepsakes referenced in the collection. Jean Lowrey wrote a story about a spoon her grandmother used to stir custard. Mitzi Boyd wrote a story about her Nanny's cake pan. Marcia Swearingen wrote about a big green mixing bowl she received as a wedding gift. I talked to another writer yesterday who said, "I have my mother's pickled eggs crock." And then last night, I selected a knife from my utensil drawer to slice a peach and realized that it had belonged to my father-in-law, George. He was an excellent cook and we inherited many treasures from the cabinets of his large kitchen in Chattanooga.

If you have a cooking-related or kitchen-related keepsake, please share your story with me. Leave a comment or send me a note. And as always, thank you for reading my blog and thinking about keepsakes. To read more keepsake stories, buy a copy of my book, Project Keepsake.