It’s the time of year when pie reigns. Pie for Breakfast Day follows Thanksgiving. Doubleheader. My family has always been the pie-suppliers for Thanksgiving. My mother before me; now it is I who pie.
My mother was a year ’round pie baker, so throwing together an assortment of pies at Thanksgiving was no big deal. I didn’t find out for many years that baking pies was considered special. At our house, it was a basic, but also a favorite dessert. Apple in the fall, strawberry-rhubarb in early summer and so on. My favorite was pumpkin, full of ginger, allspice, nutmeg and a hint of clove.
In Nora Ephron’s great movie, Michael, in addition to John Travolta’s cool dance scene, Andie MacDowell sings an ode to pie … that really says it all. My oh my, pie. I’ve been singing it around the house the last couple of days.
Pie crust is flour, fat, water, salt. At this point: vegans and vegetarians avert your gaze. My mother taught me to make pie crust with lard. Julia Child used a combination of butter for added flavor and coloring and lard for its hallmark flakiness. If one eats meat, better to use and honor the whole beast. Saturated fat? Lard is slightly lower than butter.
I was grateful for my early training in pie-making when, my next door neighbor and adventuresome collaborator, Lucinda Ingalls, hatched the idea to fund raise for our church by selling pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. Her idea was brilliantly simple: she would sell and I would bake.
I’d made batches of pies. How hard could it be?
Making 40+ pies is much different than making 3 or 4. It’s 10x different. Everything had to be small-batched to retain the flavor and texture. I ran the oven non-stop all day. I’m still amazed that it didn’t die in a sad puff of smoke. We boxed and stacked and delivered the pies to happy customers. We did a repeat venture where I made quiche for dozens and dozens of parishioners–and then I retired from mass pie making.
I’ve walked them both my daughters through the steps of working the dough, choosing the best ingredients. The former can’t be overworked and is best finished with your fingertips, blending and feeling the consistency; the latter includes baking pumpkins if you have the time and inclination. I love a last call of the season at a local farm stand to buy sugar pumpkins–those small ones–fleshier and sweeter than the jack-o-lantern style.
Friends have given me pie cookbooks over the years. And I’ve seen a host of fancied up pumpkin pie recipes. For me, it’s the classic taste of pie that my mother baked that wins the day. Her recipe came from the vintage Betty Crocker cookbook published in 1950. I also like the basic recipe on the back of One Pumpkin canned filling. In any case, whipped cream is a necessity. Go all the way with heavy cream, a splash of Madagascar vanilla, light sprinkle of sugar. Go at it with a whisk. You burn a couple of extra calories and homemade beats the canned stuff every time.
Abi, my daughter who lives in London, told me today that she made the whole Thanksgiving feast last weekend, including pie. In the land of the Brits, our holiday is not a big hit.
Pie making is a tradition to pass along. And keep. When my hands are on the rolling pin this week, I’ll be in that zone where life is sweet, simple and makes sense. I know that my mother, long since passed, will be hovering nearby and approving. My or my.
May your Thanksgiving be a celebration of family,