I can’t say exactly WHAT made Heartcease Higgin’s house my favorite place in the world… It could have been her bathroom: pearly pink bathtub, frilly curtains with eyelet trim, magical oil-filled melting balls in translucent shades of red and blue, soaps in happy shapes of birds and seashells; the scent of lilac… Maybe it was her kitchen: sun streaming through lace curtains; caramel cooking on the stove; dining table squeezed next to a mirrored folding door that concealed a washer, dryer and countless art supplies; the scent of slightly burned pie crust in the oven… Her living room? It was a mix of humble furnishings and fine antiques- a rusty pink velvet love seat with wooden arms and legs, a crochet pillow, stained concrete floors before they were commonplace. Aunt Heart’s home was a reflection of her– full of happiness and hazy light, brimming with comfort.
She was sister to my grandmother (making her our great aunt in actuality) and she seemed elderly to me- even as a child. Her lily white skin and hair, a huge smile, gentle voice and unending patience made her seem like a real life angel. In her younger years, she was a school teacher. In later years, she taught us Hawaiian songs & dances (quite exotic to her Louisiana protegé). I still hum that tune so many years later… “We throw our nets out into the sea.. and all the `ama`ama come a-swimming to me– Oh, we’re going to a Hukilau… huki huki huki Hukilau”...
Aunt Heart’s kitchen was a little girl’s dream come true. Siblings, neighborhood friends, cousins- anyone within reach- was welcome at anytime… and she let us cook. More than that, she taught us to cook (mostly dessert which was our shared favorite meal). We made pies (see recipe below), candy, cakes and caramel frosting from scratch. On every formica surface were spatulas, glass mixing bowls, thermometers and little water glasses for testing caramel. Side note: When bubbling and browned melted sugar is dripped into water and remains in droplet form, caramel can be pulled from the heat. Bet you didn’t know that…
Aunt Heart hosted art classes from her kitchen table and dubbed me the Chief Assistant. She aided in the production of countless plays, movies and short stories. Her brick fireplace was the central backdrop to more Sunday luncheons, Easter extravaganzas and costume parties than I can count. Aunt Heart nurtured the very creativity that formed who I am today.
In my memory, she will always be ruffles and lace… sweet, soft, dainty and utterly comfortable. She was a home away from home. While we can never capture her essence in an article of clothing, we do hope our little dress and tunic evoke a nostalgic feeling for you and that in a very small way- a part of Aunt Heart will live on forever.
Sarah (clearly, I was her favorite, too)
Aunt Heart’s Chocolate Custard Pie
- 1 and 2/3 cup flour
- 1/2 level tsp salt (plus a little more)
- measuring cup filled with 2/3 cup vegetable oil and 1/3 cup milk
Dump oil/milk mixture into flour/salt and mix with hands until it forms a ball. Split in half and refrigerate (reserve 1/2 for later). When ready, press into pie pan and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes (watch until it browns). Remove and let cool.
- 1 can condensed milk
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 tsp vanilla
In a double boiler, heat condensed milk and milk over medium low heat. In the meantime, make a paste with cocoa powder and egg yolks. Add to milk mixture and stir continuously until a pudding-like consistency is formed. Pour into cooked pie shell and refrigerate overnight. Top with whipping cream. Enjoy!
Scenes from our Aunt Heart Inspired Birthday Party