|2010 FALL EDITION – NO. 39|
Lemon Meringue Pie
Inez Ainsworth Huffman
May 5, 1918 - January 3, 2009
Inez Huffman was born near Magee, Mississippi to a close-knit farm family whose roots in Simpson and Smith counties dated to the period of the Mississippi Territory in the 1780s. Among her favorite pastimes as a child were visiting her grandmother's house and attending family reunions, both of which were characterized by great dinnertime repasts (dinner being, in the southern vernacular, the noonday meal) of fresh vegetables, tomatoes, cornbread, fried chicken and multiple desserts, including her personal favorite, lemon meringue pie. She began helping with the preparation of the feasts early on, and cooked similar meals on special occasions throughout her life.
As a child, Mrs. Huffman enjoyed befriending farm animals, including a pig she named Gene, whose predictable demise prompted her to refuse to eat pork for a while. She also once attempted, unsuccessfully, to raise a baby buzzard that had fallen from its nest, secreting it in her dresser drawer. Her own family was the unwavering focus of her life, and she loved to cook, to eat and to prepare special dishes for her loved ones. Her personal favorite foods were raw figs, picked directly from the tree (during fig harvests she was often chastised because her bucket never filled) and lemon meringue pie, for which she, her mother and grandmother were locally famous, by turns.
Her family moved to Morehead, in the Mississippi Delta, in 1927, the year the great flood struck, and after the water receded moved to Glendale Street in Jackson, where they lived in a house built by her father, who farmed on Livingston Road. She graduated from Jackson's Central High School, Belhaven College and Draughon's Business College, and took her first job as a teacher of English and home economics at a small school in Harrisville, where one of her fondest memories was of taking her students to a hillside to pick violets in spring. She saw the outings as a way to interrupt the tedium of grammar lessons, though in truth the trips were also a personal indulgence; she never tired, throughout her life, of picking the tiny, delicate flowers. She also had a particular love for yellow roses and wildflowers, and once remarked during a car ride, when the roadsides and fields were blanketed with blooms, "God's favorite color for flowers must be yellow." She liked nothing more than car rides in the country, and in particular, getting lost — a penchant she shared with her husband. The couple never returned by the same route they took going out, and often got stuck in mud holes, including while driving around barricades to drive on unfinished portions of I-20, I-55, Mississippi Highway 465 and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
During World War II she worked for a time as a bookkeeper in the Navy shipyards in Mobile, where she overcame her fear of heights while climbing to lofty ship decks by sitting down on the steps and moving higher and higher, backward, one step at a time. After the war she moved back to Jackson, where she studiously prolonged the courtship of her future husband, A.D. Huffman, who later said that he asked her to marry him 39 times before she finally said, "I guess so." The couple wed at Davis Memorial Baptist Church on April 18, 1946, and honeymooned in New York City and Boston.
She occasionally worked as a bookkeeper in Jackson, but her true vocation was as a mother and wife — roles she fully embraced through good times and bad. She was a nurturer but had a mischievous streak and a dry sense of humor. She was extremely observant, sometimes to the chagrin of her children, and especially indulgent of her grandchildren, who enjoyed spending time at her house as much as she had at her own grandmother's (among other things, she was a night owl and allowed the grandchildren to stay up as late as they wanted). She was a devout Christian and among the founding members of Broadmoor Baptist Church.
Though she was known as an accomplished cook, she insisted that the culinary skills handed down through her family had reached a point of diminishing returns. Her grandmother's skillet-fried chicken was the best, she insisted, followed closely by her mother's. Her own was merely adequate. Others pronounced her chicken delectable, and her daughters lamented that theirs could never hope to compare. She did concede that her lemon meringue pie was notably delicious. It was her favored gift to others to whom she owed a favor, or who had lost someone they loved.
In the early 1980s she moved her mother, whose health was failing, into her own home. There she cared for her for two years, even after her mother became bedridden. Once a nursing home became unavoidable, she visited her mother three times a day for more than a year, to ensure that she was comfortable and that she ate the meals presented to her on trays. In the late 1990s she and her husband moved to Clinton, and after his health began to deteriorate she cared for him in their home despite her own growing physical debilities. Her mind remained sharp and she kept up with current events and was attentive to the most minute details of the lives of those she loved (and, occasionally, of people she did not even know, for she was a worrier). She and her husband benefitted from the care of their children; their physicians; friend and caregiver Virgie Murrell; and nurses and aides Tonya Mangum, Brandi Pitts and Toni Dickerson. After he died on Aug. 19, 2008, Mrs. Huffman was determined to stay in her home, and did so until the night before her own death, when she went to her daughter Pam Shoemaker's home in Madison.
She held her own against congestive heart failure until pneumonia set in and required that she be hospitalized for part of what turned out to be her final day, during which she was fitted with an oxygen mask, not as a means of life support (which she opposed) but as a way to propel her own breathing deeper into her lungs. This unfortunately made it impossible for her to speak or to eat. One of her last communications was written on a dry erase board, indicating that she needed food to accompany the next dose of her daily medications. After her son alerted the nurse to this fact he was informed that it would not be possible for her to eat until her breathing improved enough for the oxygen mask to be safely removed. The resumption of normal breathing seemed a remote possibility. By that point she was dying. The doctor, when consulted, concurred, but instructed that the mask be left on, which effectively meant that Mrs. Huffman would never eat again.
By an unexpected and fortuitous turn of events, as a result of a mistake by the hospital food preparation staff, an evening meal was delivered to Mrs. Huffman's room, in covered dishes, with one item standing out, uncovered: A slice of fluffy lemon meringue pie. Mrs. Huffman and her son noticed it at the same time. Though it was not likely the pie could compare with her own, was there such a thing as a bad slice of lemon meringue pie? Her son summoned the nurse and informed her that he had no intention of denying his mother lemon meringue pie on her deathbed, and that if she (the nurse) would assist him he would remove the cumbersome mask so that she might have some, and that if she chose not to assist him he would do it on his own. After initially hesitating, the nurse helped remove the mask and left the room. Mrs. Huffman had two spoonfuls of pie, after which she appeared to be briefly startled, then closed her eyes and stopped breathing. The nurse and doctor were summoned to her side and she took a few shallow breaths, but in a matter of minutes she had died, at the same hospital where she had borne her three children into the world, with a good taste in her mouth.
Inez Huffman's lemon meringue pie
Pie ingredients: Vanilla wafers, 1 can condensed milk, 2 egg yolks (room temp), ½ cup lemon juice (real lemons), room temp. Line pie plate with vanilla wafers, pour in mixture.
Meringue: 2 egg whites, ¼ t cream of tartar, ¼ cup sugar. Mix and whip (mixer) egg whites with cream of tartar until they hold a soft peak. Gradually add sugar (a little at a time), continue to whip until whites hold a firm peak. Pile onto pie filing (when topping pie, "plop" it on filling with spatula, seal to sides with edge of spatula. Put on from the edge toward the center and it will not pull away form sides as bad). Brown under broiler. Refrigerate.
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