Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Dessert That Saved My Marriage

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Dessert That Saved My Marriage

Article excerpt

Christmas dinner was not Christmas dinner in our family without Annabelle's Christmas Pie. Forget the turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes, which we did. Our tradition was beef tenderloin, twice- baked potatoes, corn pudding, and cranberries. But my mother almost could have skipped the entree and side dishes as long as she made her famous dessert.

In fact, I credit the pie with saving the holiday, if not my marriage, when my wife spent her first Christmas with my family.

It seems I had forgotten to tell her the menu. Snow had delayed our arrival at my parents' house in Cincinnati so that we got there as the yule meal was about to be set on the table.

We had no sooner finished blessing the food when my wife leaned over and whispered, in one of those spousal whispers that conveys more than you want to hear, "Where's the turkey?"

I whispered back, feeling caught between lives, "No turkey." She had the look of a child who had found coal in her stocking on Christmas morning.

I knew that my wife felt that beef tenderloin and the trimmings were draining the tradition from her Christmas.

What would she think, I wondered, when she eventually saw the ornamental citrus tree my mother kept in the living room? A holiday tradition in our family, it was decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments, and all the presents were arrayed around it.

While family members started on seconds, the anticipatory buzz about dessert began.

"Gotta save room for baked Alaska!" my father said more than once.

Because it wasn't really going to be baked Alaska, I thought I'd better head off my wife's expectations. Quietly I explained to her that it was Annabelle's Christmas Pie, my mother's special concoction of peppermint ice cream, fudge sauce, and meringue baked in the oven oh-so-briefly.

My wife gave me one of those hard-to-decipher "OK" looks.

Then the pie worked its holiday magic. My wife's fork glided through the thick wedge of layered rich, dark chocolate and pink ice cream flecked with red and green, which was topped with almond- brown meringue. She tasted Christmas. Each bite produced surprise and delight similar to opening presents under the tree.

That was 13 years ago. My wife has now made Annabelle's Christmas Pie one of our yule traditions. Beef tenderloin, however, didn't make the cut. If you celebrate at our house, you have turkey and all the usual trimmings. We have a traditional Christmas tree in the house, but the lemon trees in our Los Angeles backyard are strung with lights and hung with ornaments.

After my mother died, I became the "keeper of the pie." Her recipe - on a yellowed, ingredient-spattered piece of loose-leaf notebook paper - is carefully preserved. My siblings all have copies. It wouldn't seem like Christmas to any of us without Annabelle's Christmas Pie. …

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