Act I, Scene 1: Enter the pies, the scones, the coffee and the coffeecakes, the gluten free for all and the cookies.
Act I, Scene 2: Enter the maddening crowd.
Act I, Scene 3: Bake more.
As tricky as the retail component of the holiday may be, I’d be remiss to ignore the variations on family traditions, often as complex as the ingredients one might encounter in a gluten free/nut free/dairy free birthday cake.
In many homes across America, apple pie is an integral part of the Thanksgiving menu. Based on last year’s pie sales, Granny Smith and friends were invited to many family gatherings. Though most often seen sporting a double crust, some were teamed with cranberries beneath a cloak of oatmeal crumble. This year is no exception; I have more than enough bruises from tripping over apple crates and ten cranberry stained fingertips to prove it.
Apple pie didn’t make the cut in our family because it was something that made an appearance most Sunday evenings beginning in early September. By the time November rolled around, Jessie felt it was time to turn the page on apple. Pumpkin and pecan were reserved for Thanksgiving, perfect triangular slices leaning against scoops of rapidly melting vanilla ice cream. For those so inclined, Jessie also baked a towering layer cake, either classic yellow or devils food with swirls of dark chocolate frosting. There was always a tangle of sterling silver cutlery to contend with; pies were sliced with multiple offset servers and serrated long handled knives so as to avoid pumpkin-pecan comingling. The cake succumbed to an elaborate ‘cutter comb’ that lived in the bottom of the silver chest and was reserved for Thanksgiving. (The only other time I saw it used was for slicing the occasional angel food cake.) In keeping with tradition, the cake cutter comb now resides in the bottom of my silver chest where I glance at it from time to time.
Over the years, pumpkin broke out of its classic pie shell to take a spin in a springform pan as cheesecake, in a loaf pan as bread pudding and in a punch bowl as trifle. The most staggering take on Thanksgiving dessert to date is the Cherpumple, a somewhat terrifying combination of cherry, pumpkin and apple pie encased in spice, yellow and white cake layers. No doubt a knee-jerk reaction to the Turducken, both have blissfully enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame and moved on. Almost as troubling and already spotted in too many shopping carts is the latest offering from Trader Joes, Turkey Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips. I’ll take a pass.
Today, the interweb provides more Pinspiration than can possibly be incorporated into one meal, though many have tried. Forgive me if my schedule precludes hollowing out Comice pears and filling them with hand-cranked pomegranate sorbet. My Thanksgiving menu is unwavering, an homage to the turkey stuffers and turkey carvers, pie bakers and pie slicers that came before me. It is also a reflection of those seated around this year’s table.
As Al Roker snips the ribbon kicking off this year’s Macy’s Day Parade, there will be the creaking of wooden floors and the shuffle of slippers in a small house in New Jersey. Three of the most irritating words in the English language will echo through the kitchen; “What’s for breakfast?”
Barely looking up from what clearly resembles a crime scene, I will respond with equal parts fatigue and frustration, “BREAKFAST???!!!”
My housemates will inquire about breakfast with sincerity and well meaning. With miles to travel before dinner, the question is fair and a little something to eat is hardly criminal. I will continue stuffing, trussing, basting and hoisting the bird to a precarious yet well oiled rack. Wrestling the rack to a weighty roasting pan reserved for this one particular day, I will be cranky. My back will hurt, my neck too, and I’m sure there will be some of that involuntary eye rolling, head nodding thing I’m so wrongly accused of.
I love Thanksgiving. The real trick is getting there.