Standing in my kitchen with mixing bowls, measuring spoons, my Black and Decker hand mixer, springform pan, and ingredients spread out over the counter, I’m ready. Ready to make one of my favorite holiday desserts. Pumpkin tiramisu.
So rich and frothy. So beautiful when I unlock the springform pan and place the pumpkin tiramisu on my plate. So elegant looking when I scatter crushed amaretti cookies on top. And best of all. So simple. My kind of dessert!
Then it hits me. The tall sea green glass mixing bowl. My mother’s. One of her wedding gifts in 1951. That bowl is 70 years old. The bent and misshaped metal measuring spoons, fanning out from the ring holding them all together at the top of each spoon. My mother’s. Another wedding gift? I don’t know. But old. I prefer to think of them as vintage. The springform pan. Yes. Also my mother’s. I love running my fingers over the dimples in the base of the pan. I can’t resist the joy of caressing those dimples before filling the pan. Why? Maybe it’s my way of letting the memory of my mother spring to life.
The pumpkin pie spice. My mother’s glass jar of McCormick’s Pumpkin Pie Spice with its faded seafoam green cap matching the color of the label. I turn the jar over. At the bottom of the label below the list of ingredients I read “69c.”
I start doing mental math. Just how old is this pumpkin pie spice? I’m guessing my mom bought this jar when we lived in Baltimore, Maryland. Exotic aromas wafted from the old McCormick and Company spice mill on the edge of Baltimore’s inner harbor. Inhaling the sweet smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves transported me to faraway countries. A salute to the spice trade and strange plants harvested in distant lands for shipment across deserts and oceans along the spice route.
My mental math calculation complete, I guestimate these spices are at least 50 years old. If my mom bought her jar in 1971 when I was in high school, then, yes, it’s 50 years old. Her spices were among my inheritance when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.
Holding a vintage glass jar of McCormick and Company spice – the ones with those faded seafoam green caps – is almost as fine a moment as being in my mom’s kitchen. Standing beside my mother at her kitchen counter with a pale blue apron tied around her waist, and learning how to roll out a pie crust, how to crimp the edges of a pie crust, how to fold a pie filling into beaten egg whites without breaking down their stiff peaks. Happy memories.
My pumpkin tiramisu begged me to fortify it with fresh spices. Convinced I could break with tradition and treat my dinner guests to a tastier dessert, I broke down and bought myself a short plastic jar of fresh pumpkin pie spice. $4.24.
After sliding my pumpkin tiramisu into the refrigerator to set, I put away my ingredients. Sugar on the shelf next to the flour, rum in the liquor cabinet, whipping cream in the frig. The old glass jar and the new plastic jar of pumpkin pie spice back into my spice cabinet. Two generations. Almost like mother and daughter.
Did my pumpkin tiramisu taste better? Did those sweet flavors of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg surge with vitality amid the ladyfingers doused in dark rum? Maybe.
My dinner guests oohed and ahhed. But I missed the spice of my mother’s memory.