Two words truly capture the essence of Pie-mageddon; one is “never” and the other is “enough.” The words can be used individually, for example, “I am never going to be able to cram another pie shell in this freezer” or “Enough already!” referring to the number of pre-orders haunting my dreams. The words can also be used back-to back when discussing the number of hours in a day, the numbers of racks in an oven and the number of hands available to peel bushels and bushels of apples. This year it seemed that there was never enough apple/pumpkin/pecan in the offing to satisfy the pie hungry throngs that forgot to order in advance.
The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving are fraught with drama. Add to an already stressful holiday a global pandemic, and you’ve set the stage for some lengthy days and bleary-eyed nights. Small annoyances become monumental; sneeze-inducing masks with ear bending elastics, in-operable linen service aprons, a pair of jeans that desperately requires a belt, but you've forgotten the belt. Normal, everyday occurrences take on a sinister life of their own.
The truth is there will never be enough oven time, freezer space, fridge space, nor pie to satisfy the hunger of those who don’t bake. This year felt more unsettled than years past, especially when Thanksgiving pre-orders closed. The distinctive hint of a small uprising lurked just beyond the bakery door. Reminiscent of the angry mob waving torches and pitchforks in Beauty and the Beast, my version featured an angry mob wielding pie forks. Despite copious amounts of caffeine, there were days in November that felt as topsy turvy as a good, old fashioned Thanksgivukkuh.
Clearly, 2020 is the uninvited houseguest who doesn’t know when to leave. It is the least welcome addition to the holiday table, snagging the last slice of pie when you aren’t looking. While we wait impatiently for this crazy year to gather up its belongings and see itself out, the best we can do is fortify ourselves with a little pie, a little Zoom and an abundance of kindness.
Pumpkin pie has been on my radar since early July, when HGTV Magazine contacted me wanting some insight on pumpkin pie mishaps. Clearly they had landed in the appropriate pumpkin patch. Pumpkin pies are the neediest in the Thanksgiving pie line-up. Maybe not when you're baking at home with an oven that speaks your language and classical music pouring out of the radio. Loading convection ovens from top to bottom with dozens (and dozens) of pumpkin pies requires cajoling them into almost doneness. Knowing when to pluck them from the oven while they still jiggle is tricky. What's needed is a gentle heat that will woo the spiced custard just enough, but not too much.
Commercial ovens are equipped with feisty heating elements and fans that circulate hot air. These ovens can be both breezy and hot headed. The last thing a custard pie wants is too much hot air blowing down its crimp. If you could wrap each pie in its own cashmere pashmina for the last ten minutes, you might have a shot at even baking. Instead, the oven doors tiptoe open to reveal pies at varying degrees of readiness. Cookbooks once suggested the "clean test" knife approach, but that only leaves a chasm sprawling across the pie's surface. The cautious manipulating of the not-quite-baked-pies is a delicate dance. The more you jostle them, the more apt they are to grimace.
Pumpkin pies do not appreciate a draft or a chill, much like my first piano teacher, Mrs. Poblack, who wore a cardigan sweater regardless of the season. While I plunked out the C major scale, Mrs. Poblack fanned herself non-stop with my copy of "A Dozen a Day." You might say her fanning was as relentless as a convection oven without a fan switch. Which is what makes Thanksgiving fraught with challenges worthy of magazine copy.
Anyone who has ever dabbled in the performing arts knows instinctively what the term Anxious Patience refers too. It is a state of anxiety where you are desperate to learn the facts but terrified at the outcome. Generally, it conjures images of a high school bulletin board announcing the cast list for the annual spring musical. As a lowly freshman, know-it-all-sophomore, or arrogant junior, it felt like the end of the world if the role you saw yourself playing went to somebody else, namely a senior.
In college, Anxious Patience required more of you because there was a semester's worth of shows to audition for amidst far greater competition. Cast lists were posted on the Call Board, a backstage bulletin board that could determine your fate by the simple inclusion or omission of your name. Hopes and dreams were dashed more often than highly coveted roles were snagged. The disbelief accompanying the news unfolded amidst your competitors. The Call Board provided one of the most demanding of all acting skills; how to be a gracious loser. Combing through a blur of names to find your own, or not, helped aspiring actors steel themselves against the competitive nature of the business. It also helped propel some of us directly across campus to the student union where peanut M&Ms and mint lentils were sold by the pound.
As I practice Anxious Patience/Pandemic Version, I am grateful for the pie support of @maggieschweppe (aka Blondilocks). I see nothing wrong with adding a little (more) sugar, salt, and butter to my diet as I wait for someone to please, point me toward tomorrow.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm