Thanksgiving has been really tough since my dad passed away. Not only is it the one holiday we celebrate as a family, but it also features his all-time favorite meal.
In preparation for the big day, he and my sister would bake pies—always pumpkin, apple, and blueberry—the day before, a tradition so ingrained that, after he died, one of my cousins wailed, “Who’s going to bring the pies to Thanksgiving dinner now?” They were store-bought that first year, and a friend of my aunt’s had the responsibility the next; this time around, I wanted to do the baking myself.
The problem: My aunt had already picked up four pies from Costco, which would bring our total to seven pies. For sixteen people. I couldn’t decide what to do; a normal person would’ve just let it go, but I was fixated on this idea, hemming and hawing for days to Jill, and to anyone else who would listen, about my little dilemma. Witness the following exchange:
jill: Eff it. Make it anyway. I buy/make things that I know are better than other things there, even if they’re duplicates.
me: I might. Was going to make three, though, which would be overkill for sure.
jill: It wouldn’t be you if it wasn’t overkill. ;)
me: So true.
jill: Do it. You’ll feel better.
Properly egged on, I finally broke out my grandmother’s cookbook. (That’s her writing on the right, my dad’s on the left.)
First up was blueberry. I didn’t have the frozen, peak-season berries that the recipe calls for, and buying them fresh wasn’t financially feasible, so I had to make do with a bag or two of commercially frozen fruit from the grocery store. As you’d imagine, the filling wasn’t quite as good this way, but it wasn’t half bad, either: It was the first to disappear from the table.
Jill’s already shared our pumpkin pie recipe, and her crust is much better-looking than mine, too. A bit of backstory: This pie is the source of another small family tradition. My aunt prefers her pie without crust, and this recipe makes just enough to fill the pastry shell, with a little bit leftover; my grandmother, and then my father, used to bake the remainder in a separate dish, one without crust, for her. I did the same.
I’ve mentioned that the crust-making gene doesn’t seem to run in my family, but because I was doing this thing, I wanted to do it properly. I crossed my fingers and, like Jill, defaulted to Martha Stewart, that domestic doyenne, for what turned out to be a very good recipe. From my (extremely) limited experience, I have to say that making the crust is the easy part; it’s rolling it out that’s tricky. I had some serious issues with the top crust of the apple pie—getting it thin enough to cover the massive pile of Granny Smith slices was no picnic. I patched it up as best I could, but, in the end, the crust wasn’t the problem anyway.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…the applesauce pie!
Convinced that the top wasn’t quite done, I gave it an extra fifteen minutes in the oven; in hindsight, not the smrtest move. It still had that trademark Martha (my grandmother, not Stewart) flavor, but the texture was all wrong.
Honestly, though, I didn’t mind so much. There were points during the baking process when I had questions about the recipes, and knowing that I couldn’t call my father for clarification nearly brought me to tears. But Jill, wise friend that she is, was right. I did feel better. The act of producing something tied so closely to my dad made me miss him, for that moment, a tiny bit less, and made this Thanksgiving just a smidgen more bearable.
Next year, those pies are going to be great. My sister’s promised to help.
Martha’s Apple Pie
6 large, tart apples (Macintosh and Gala work well)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
3 tablespoons butter
1. Combine flour, sugar, brown sugar, spices, salt, and lemon juice.
2. Peel, pare, and slice apples enough to generously fill pastry shell; put apples in shell.
3. Sprinkle the flour/sugar mixture on top of apples.
4. Dot butter around on top of apples.
5. Put on top crust, cut vent slits, crimp edges, and trim.
6. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes, then lower to 350° for 45 minutes or until apples are tender. Don’t burn crust.