It is barely Pie-tober, with miles to travel before turkeys and tryptophan get tangled up in the good dishes. Although there is a newly purchased, unopened box of After Eight Mints resting on my dining room table, I will ignore said holiday until rolling pin and hands become one.
Despite my fierce denial, there is one slight pie wrinkle that must be addressed, and that is the state of the pumpkin. Pies in general, but specifically Thanksgiving pies are driven by food memories. The people seated at the head of the table may change and the faces reflected in the sterling silver are either a good bit older or brand new to the party. It is pretty safe to assume, however, that the culmination of the holiday meal will feature triangular slices draped in ice cream or whipped cream. In anticipation of the last Thursday in November, one must ponder the pumpkin.
Pumpkin pie is highly personal. Yes, there’s a familiar assemblage of sugars and dairy, spices and squash. The memories are what make your pumpkin pie different from mine. Are you partial to the richness of heavy cream, sour cream or Carnation evaporated milk? Is there molasses in the mix? Do you like a sprinkling of mace or black pepper? Is the recipe taken from the back of the Libby canned pumpkin or is it penned in your grandmother’s hand? Pumpkin pies can be similar but one girl’s nutmeg is another girl’s allspice. A bigger question looms; are you pro cloves or opposed?
What I vividly remember about Jessie’s pumpkin pie is a can of Libby’s pumpkin lounging on the Formica kitchen counter next to a canister of dark brown sugar and a parade of McCormick spice tins. Jessie measured out cinnamon and nutmeg, ginger and the slightest hint of cloves. I have a faded recipe card that I hastily scribbled one Thanksgiving, years before the launch of A Slice of Heaven. Jessie dictated the recipe including the directive, “add two good pinches of salt.” In hindsight, Jessie was decades ahead of the salt caramel bandwagon, adding a little more salt to balance the sweetness of the brown sugar and give the pie some spunk. The rest of the details were drowned out by the hum of the Sunbeam mixer and the Macy’s Day parade. I wish I had asked her why her pumpkin pies never cracked.
In anticipation of what I consider the actual Pie Day, this week I auditioned a trio of pumpkin pies before the audience of Team Butter. Personally, I prefer a bit of tipsy in my holiday dessert, but the boozy entry received the comment, "Thank you. Next?" In the end, we settled on a classic pumpkin pie; just enough spice, but not too much. Hopefully we chose the one that says, “Hey- thanks!”
When I’m standing at the bench, slicing pounds of butter (and not my thumb) into sensible cubes, I daydream about Thanksgiving. In my dream, there is a sign emblazoned across the front of the bakery. It declares, “NO PIE RESERVATIONS. We bake ‘em- you take ‘em, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.” The same way Linus believed in the Great Pumpkin, I so terribly want to believe. A girl can dream.