My sister and I have a mouthful of silver amalgams! Even though flouridated water arrived in the early fifties, it wasn’t until Proctor and Gambol launched its Crest with Flouristan that the positive effects of fluoridation on tooth decay were realized. By then it was too late. Kool-Aid was our drink of choice. It only cost 5 cents a pack and cost much less than the colas on the market. Just a cup “or two” of sugar mixed in with the granulated flavored mix and water, and we were ready to drink or lick-licking the popsicles we made with Kool-Aid, that is.
We first poured the sugary liquid into ice-cube trays to freeze. Those frozen delights gave us much-needed relief on hot summer days, and when the ice cream man rode by on his bicycle powered ice cream wagon, it was not quite so painful to not have fifteen cents to buy the real Popsicle. We knew we had our very own version waiting for us in the freezer. Once frozen, we’d crack the metal handle of the ice-cube tray to release the cubes of frozen sugar, and then wrapped them in a paper towel or napkin to lick quickly, before they melted.
But home-made popsicles weren’t the only sugary treat that contributed to our cavities. Puddings and cream pies made especially for the Strange kids, by none other than Mother, were included in our gastronomical delights. Mother made the best cream pies-ever. Unlike the pies of today, she made the crust from lard-yes, I said lard. Not healthy, but flaky, rich and delectable. Even more inviting were the cream fillings. Chocolate, banana cream, coconut cream, butterscotch or lemon-all topped off with golden brown meringue. Or in some cases-slightly burned-depending on whether Mother was paying attention to the broiler or not. Nevertheless, each pie was a masterpiece.
Our treat, before the pie was done, was licking the spoon or the pot which contained the leftover cream. One of us got the spoon, and one of us got the pot. The pot was the top prize just by virtue of the quantity of leftover cream. And, while we finished off the remnants of the cream, Mother busied herself with the meringue. Depending on whether she had an operating electric mixer at the time or not-which was not always the case-she sometimes beat the meringue by hand. Do you know how long it takes to beat egg whites by hand?
After much beating, when the meringue was ready (measured by whether or not it stood in peaks), Mother spread the stiff egg whites over the cream and immediately placed the pie under the broiler. With the oven door slightly ajar, the three of us watched the peaks of the meringue quickly brown. We had to be diligent in our watch because in a matter of seconds the meringue could turn from slightly browned to completely burned. And sometimes it did.
Regardless of the meringue’s final condition, the pies were always delectable. And if the cream was still warm when eaten, it was even better. Banana pudding was also best when eaten warm. Another favorite treat and a typical dessert of the fifties.
On occasion, I have tried to replicate Mother’s cream pies, but the crust is never quite as good and the cream not as rich. She never used a recipe or a cookbook, so I have nothing to use as a reference. What I do know is that a cream pie must be enjoyed warm. It cannot be cold. It must not be chilled. For me, the essence of those pies was the warmth of the cream on my tongue. The essence of the experience was the memory that melts my heart. And the silver amalgams?-well, they’ve just been replaced by crowns. And I still use Crest toothpaste.