November 2018 Innkeeper Blog

Ode to Evelyn: A Shoutout to my Grandmother and Why I Love Thanksgiving

My first Thanksgiving with grandmama, 1964.

As an innkeeper for San Juan Island Inn Collection’s Tucker House Inn and Harrison House Suites, I’ve toyed with writing a travel/hospitality-ish blog centered around food, festivities, family, friends, and fascinating places and experiences — the five Fs that bring me the most joy in life.

And with Thanksgiving on the horizon, it seems like the perfect time to dive in. The late autumn holiday has always been my favorite. Its lack of commercialism, simple theme of goodwill towards neighbors, and (of course) eating comfort food — all day long.

My most nostalgic memories of Thanksgiving are those during my grade school years. My mom’s mom, Evelyn (or grandmama as I was supposed to address her), held her annual open house for a diverse crowd of her many friends and admirers. To this very grown-up event came her work colleagues, apartment managers, lake house neighbors, adult cousins, and other guests I never saw outside the occasion. Besides my younger brother and I, no kids were allowed.

Adults-Only Gathering

Evelyn Phillips, autumn 1984.

It was a dressy affair, where I wore patent leather Mary Janes and cotton tights. I am sure the ladies had been to the beauty parlor and the gentlemen had had their sport coats dry-cleaned.

But my favorite part was getting my once-a-year serving of Farberware-rotisseried rump roast, turkey with giblet gravy, along with my grandma’s famous Onion Pie. Even as a kid I never had much of a sweet tooth. For me, the flavors to savor were the caramelly-sauteed onions, crispy cracker crust, and gooey cheddar-cheesy topping that made up her decadent dessert-sounding side dish. Sometimes I dream about it — even in the spring.

Onion Pie is Synonymous with the Melting Pot that is America

Through the years, my Thanksgivings have been spent in various places, never the same, and always special. I have lasting memories of tamales and pozole in New Mexico, salmon and oysters in the Pacific Northwest, and Virginia Ham in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For me, Thanksgiving is about inviting strangers to share my table with family and close friends. And, always, at every gathering, my grandmama’s Onion Pie sits aside the stuffing, yams, greens, and cranberries.

Always a favorite, I anticipate at least one guest asking me for the recipe. Like the 70s commercial for Fabrege Organic Shampoo: “If I tell two friends, they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on… .”

Another important reason why the very-American holiday of Thanksgiving is number one on my list is that it brings out the best in all of us. I have sat at the table with hippies, artists, soldiers, foreigners, bankers and baristas, and for one magical evening, we are all neighbors. So, as we gather around the table this month, let us collectively reflect on what brings us together and what we are thankful for.

Here are 10 of the many blessings I will be counting:

  1. My strong supportive marriage
  2. My daughter, who amazes and inspires me
  3. The beautiful place on earth where I live
  4. The family and friends I have reconnected with this year
  5. My amazing employers and co-workers
  6. The best dog and feline family members anyone can have
  7. The desire and ability to learn and grow
  8. My health
  9. The ability to tackle death and grief
  10. Onion Pie

I have many more blessings to count. Once a month, as a part of the Tucker House Inn and Harrison House Suites eNewsletter, I plan to share past and present stories from my five favorite Fs: food, festivities, family, friends, and fascinating places and experiences. It is my hope that you find them warm, funny, and relatable. I would love to hear what you think and am always available should you want to email me at: shelley@tuckerhouse.com.

In the meantime, I’m passing along Evelyn’s, now famous, Onion Pie recipe in the event you want to make it a part of your Thanksgiving feast. She would be thrilled.

Evelyn’s Onion Pie

Makes 8 servings.

Your new favorite Thanksgiving side dish.

 Ingredients

2 cups oyster crackers or saltines; pulsed into fine crumbs in a food processor
1 stick (8 tbs.) salted butter
2 large white onions; sliced thin & separated
1-1/2 cups half ‘n’ half or a mixture of half ‘n’ half & heavy cream
2 large, or 3 medium eggs; beaten
1-1/2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese; shredded
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. grated nutmeg (fresh is best if you have it)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

 

Directions

Using your hand or paper towel, heavily grease a pretty baking dish on its bottom and half way up its sides using 3 tbs. of butter (It should be very thick and pasty). Spread the cracker crumbs along the bottom and up the sides of the dish as best you can. Make sure you can’t see the baking dish through the crust.

In a large non-stick skillet melt the remaining butter (5 tbs.) on medium to medium-high heat. Immediately add the onion slices before the butter browns. Saute for 10 minutes using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir regularly. Keep heat at medium and add the garlic powder, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, and pepper flakes. Liberally salt and pepper, being sure to taste. Continue to stir until the onions just begin to brown. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream until scalding and almost boiling over. Set aside. While it and the onion mixture are cooling, grate the cheese onto a paper towel or plate.

When the milk has cooled to luke warm, add it to the onions and stir. Stir in the eggs and then pour the entire mixture into the cracker-coated baking dish. Top with grated cheddar cheese, sprinkle with a bit more Italian seasoning, and place in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove, let set for 10 minutes, and serve.

Onion Pie Embellishments

  • Use different cheeses – I love 1/2 smoked gouda & 1/2 sharp cheddar
  • Try different crackers – buttery, salted ones are best, in my opinion
  • Add unique spice blends & herbs – Crispy kale sprinkled on top is fantastic
  • Include a little chopped red and green pepper into your onion mixture for Christmas Onion Pie!