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On making pies and giving thanks

November 25, 2010

Twenty or so years ago, I made my first pie crust under my father’s direction. It was about time, he said – he started making pastry when he was four. Of course.

Close to 10 years ago we moved Thanksgiving dinner from his house to my mother’s, which seats more people and is easier to to. Attendance doubled with aunts, uncles and cousins and soon in-laws. The pie-making more firmly became my Thanksgiving dinner assignment  – and started feeling like a chore. Soon I hated making pie crust – found the cutting in of chilled butter a tedious, loathsome task; didn’t want to wait for it to chill; dreaded the floury, doughy mess I’d make when I rolled it out. Meanwhile, Dad was still making pies at home – not to bring to dinner, but to have around before and after – and to compare to my pies.

So when I got my first apartment and a kitchen of my own, I bought my first pie crust. Pillsbury, deep dish, frozen, perfect. That year, my pie crust passed the Dad test with flying colors. By Christmas he knew my secret, and soon he was used to the disappointment and switched his critical attention to the filling. It worked for me, because I had no plans to go back to homemade crust. Retail was cheap and easy – and easy to turn out of the aluminum pan and into something glass for more authentic presentation. For apple or cherry, I’d take the second crust, turn it out on to the counter to cut into perfect-length strips and voila – a darling lattice-top.

But I’m a from-scratch girl at heart. And I’ll probably never get tired of trying to impress my father. And sometime between today and when I bought my first pie crust, I met and then married a guy who turns cold butter and flour into a bowl of coarse crumbs in short order. So.

I’ve been back at it for a few years now. I’ve tried for tender crust and thin crust. Sometimes butter, sometimes shortening. I’ve baked the crust before filling. Once when Don wasn’t around, I ditched the pastry blender, stirred in a little oil and patted the dough into the pie plate instead of rolling it out.

Because Don is spending this Thanksgiving tiling a bathroom, Jack and I took care of the pies. (He’s about four months shy of three, so according to my dad’s formula, the time is right.)

We used shortening, added a little brown sugar to sweeten and soften the dough, and spiced it with cinnamon, ginger and cloves. We made four crusts – two for pumpkin, and two for a double-crust apple-cranberry pie. We changed our shirts several times.

Pies aren’t my only contribution to dinner anymore. Today the oven is reserved for a ham and a giant pan of roasted vegetables – turnips, rutabaga, carrots, bulbs, butternut squash, celery and three kids of potato – and the stovetop will be busy braising brussels sprouts. No one’s bringing any combination of celery and gelatin, but my mother is going to make a cranberry relish of NPR fame that involves sour cream, onion, sugar and horseradish.

This year, for starters, I’m glad that dinner will be served not in the middle of the day but near the end of it. Jack and I are getting to see the Rockettes, Tom Turkey, and – most exciting for the toddler – the Sesame Street float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, during what would usually be a hectic, messy time of morning. Later, he’ll have more time to nap, and I’ll have more time to get hungry.

This year, Jack’s old and verbal enough for a conversation about giving thanks. Sort of. So far this morning, he’s thankful for dancing, Daddy, wood, his Elf on a Shelf, his family, hushpuppies, rock-n-roll music, and the drum set he desperately wants for Christmas. His parents are thankful for a toddler with patience for pie crust and tile work, not to mention two years of home construction. And counting. We’re thankful for his list and the things on it, too – for the wood that framed and trimmed our house (so what if there are still piles of it everywhere?), for the best-in-the-world hushpuppies we shared for lunch with great friends yesterday (the same ones we have to thank for his new Elf). And who’s not thankful for music and dancing?

So Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you’re spending it feeling full – of some kind of feast and of thanks for your own long list.

Do you have a designated dish for the holiday? Anything to prove to your family food critic? A famously terrible family recipe? (Is your fruitcake starting to ferment in time for the giving season?) And if there are little ones at your house, how do you talk to them about Thanksgiving?


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9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2010 1:13 pm

    Happy belated Thanksgiving Leslie! And you must know that I made absolutely nothing for Thanksgiving. Melissa is not a chef nor a baker (unless you are talking about cupcakes!).

  2. November 26, 2010 2:06 pm

    What a lovely photo and how nice that you now get to introduce Jack to the family tradition of pastry making. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

  3. November 27, 2010 9:06 pm

    Happy Belated Thanksgiving Leslie! The picture of Jack is lovely.

    Wish I could come over for some of those pies!

  4. Sister permalink
    November 28, 2010 3:28 pm

    Did you hear Coolio on NPR talking about the relish? Samberg sent him the recipe and he tried it – with a few of his own variations. And then he rapped about having a fetish for that relish.

    I still wasn’t convinced – it sounds horrible. Did anyone eat it?

  5. November 29, 2010 3:38 pm

    Happy belated Thanksgiving!! We have my grandmother’s famous (and delicious) potato casserole, which even I have not managed to mess up, despite accidentally leaving out an ingredient from time to time.

    And where can I get me one of those Elf on a Shelf thingies? Cool.

  6. November 29, 2010 3:44 pm

    And a homemade pie, where can I get one of those?? =>

  7. November 29, 2010 8:50 pm

    Love it! A couple of years ago, my mom and I decided to scrap the traditionals in favor of making whatever sounded good to us for our holiday meals. That being said, we quickly fell in love with a cranberry chutney recipe and a sour dough and chorizo stuffing, so now it’s really just a toss up between how we want to prepare some kind of root veggie and the green beans. I like that she and I made a tradition together though, and if my kids ever want to bail on the chutney or the sour dough, I’ll do my best to roll with it and see what new tricks are up the old tradition sleeve!

    Unrelated, we need some more house pictures! Might be time to do an update?? 🙂

  8. November 29, 2010 11:51 pm

    I love those photos, especially his careful concentration! I was ‘raised’ on store-bought pie crust (well, store-bought everything, really) and I’m rebelling by doing everything homemade now. I couldn’t make pie crust without a food processor though (does that still count?)!

  9. November 30, 2010 4:01 am

    What a fun tradition, even if it is a lot of work. I almost attempted pie crust this year, but gave in when I saw the pre-made crusts in the store. I’m the pie girl in my family too.

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