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Grandma Ellon's Old-Fashioned Custard

written by: Tonya Sinclair Swindell

Remembering to Remember

Rushing from one activity to another hinders my ability to recall people, places and things. Although my smartphone helps me remember to pay a bill, buy a loaf of bread, or meet a friend for lunch, it doesn’t really help me to recall meaningful events that impacted my life and made me who I am.

When I slow down and “remember to remember” cherished experiences from my past, I become more aware of my present and hopeful about my future.

Photograph: My paternal grandmother, Ellon, is on the left. My maternal grandmother, Mamie or "Me Me", is on the right.

Some of my most vivid memories were created when I visited my grandmothers as a little girl. A lot of my memories involve sights, sounds, smells and tastes associated with food I ate at my grandmothers’ tables.

When I entered the kitchen of my father’s mother, I saw shimmering strands of multi-colored, 1970’s-style plastic beads that hung from the ceiling to floor on each side of the entryway. The beads collided with my body and with each other, making a gentle clanging sound as I walked between them to sit at Grandma’s table.

I immediately caught a whiff of freshly fried chicken, speckled butter beans with okra (that Grandma picked from her backyard garden) and egg custard pies that were baked with love.

My favorite snack when I was at Grandma’s house was a generous slice of cheese that was deep golden in color and had a mild flavor. It was cut from a cheese wedge that had a thin, red piece of wax called “rind” covering the widest surface of the wedge. The cheese was always soft but firm, and it glistened with beads of oil, because it rested all day under a dome-shaped piece of glass that had a round, wooden base.

When we visited “Me Me,” my mother’s mother, in the quaint, one-story house built by my grandfather in the Deep South, I recall eating “chowchow," a tangy pickled relish made from cabbage, onions and multi-colored bell peppers that was stored in a sealed mason jar.

The rest of the meal included chitlins (chitterlings), thoroughly cleaned pig intestines that were boiled in water with onions and various spices until tender then served over white rice with a splash of vinegar and Texas Pete hot sauce. I don’t have a taste for chitlins or a desire to whiff their pungent aroma anymore, but I appreciate how they came to be a part of Southern cuisine.

I take pride in knowing slaves prepared the choicest meats for their owners and then transformed leftover pig parts they were given into nourishment for their families.

Unlike my smartphone, my heart remembers the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that made me who I am. When I embrace my past, I become more aware of my present and hopeful about my future.

As I “remember to remember,” I consciously hold on to people, places and things that my smartphone could not really capture.

Grandmother's Old-Fashioned Custard

Unfortunately I never actually got a chance to see Grandma make her famous egg custard pies because whenever we arrived, they were already freshly baked and prepared for us to savor and enjoy. But I found a recipe that took me right back to the sights, smells and tastes of Grandma's cozy, warm kitchen. Enjoy!


  • 1 unbaked pie shell

  • 3 large eggs

  • ½ cup granulated sugar

  • ½ tsp salt

  • ½ tsp nutmeg

  • 2-2/3 cups milk

  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: In a medium-sized bowl, using a hand mixer or whisk, beat the eggs slightly. Add in sugar, salt, nutmeg, milk, and vanilla and beat well until combined (mixture will be somewhat thin).

Step 3: Carefully pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Tonya recreates her grandmother's custard in her kitchen

Step 4: Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely to room temperature.


Bio: Tonya Sinclair Swindell is an occupational therapist, writer, poet, and regularly featured newspaper columnist. Her writing has been featured in: Occupational Therapy Practice Magazine, Suffolk News-Herald, New Journal And Guide, Distinguished Woman Magazine, “Determined to Succeed” by Dr. Caretha Crawford and an upcoming documentary by McAfee Tech.

Tonya obtained a B.S degree in Occupational Therapy (OT) from Medical University of South Carolina and a M.S. degree in Community Health Education and Promotion from Old Dominion University. She is a teacher with Kingdom Building Institute and a board member for Hesed Place, a 501c3 non-profit organization serving adult survivors of complex trauma. Her mission is to build racial, social and spiritual reconciliation through writing, speaking and education. Tonya can be reached at: or on Facebook at: Tonya Sinclair Swindell - Teacher With A Pen.

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