A common November malaise, pie anxiety affects more than enough folks to spark hotlines helmed by flour and shortening experts. The simple commingling of flour, butter, sugar, and salt (with just enough cold water to hold it together) creates panic among perfectly competent bakers. On a recent Tuesday morning, I commandeered an unwieldy shopping cart alongside a woman in the frozen food aisle of Trader Joe’s. As she unearthed a box of Gourmet Pie Crusts from the freezer compartment, my eyes involuntarily began to roll. Noticing my disdain, she assured me the pie crusts were as good as homemade and, she added with emphasis, “I consider myself a very good baker.” Avoiding confrontation, I moved on, working my way towards the end of the aisle. Pausing by the Pound Plus chocolate bars, I chose the 72% Dark Chocolate cloaked in its signature red wrapper. As soon as I finish the Peanut Butter Cups and the Milky Ways, I’m going to focus on good chocolate eating habits.
These are stressful times. With less than a month remaining, Thanksgiving will pervade every working moment, prompting heated debates about pie crusts, blind bakes, and pumpkin fillings that insist on cracking. Some of us will agonize more about the dessert course than the butter basted turkey. We proclaim this as the year we will try something new and different, straying from the old reliable fruit, nut, or custard pies. Change is good, but best explored early in the Thanksgiving game.
This very well may be the year you roast and purée your own pumpkin, lovingly toasting the seeds and spicing them just so. Just make sure that in addition to having the time and the inclination, you also have the cheesecloth necessary to strain the water-logged squash and a can of Libby's on the shelf if things don't turn out as planned.
It's quite possible your public television station will air a holiday special this Sunday, sparking your inspiration. Do you really have the time to bake a pie on your gas-fired grill, while your turkey hums in a vat of deathly hot oil? More importantly, how interested are you in getting to know your local fire department?
When you’re told “This Is the Only (pick one) Pumpkin/Apple/Pecan/Gluten Free/Vegan Pie Recipe You Should be Baking Right Now!” they mean right now, not Thanksgiving morning. You can choose to be daring, but don't overlook the stability of recipes that are comfortably familiar.
At some tables, a red felt turkey will preside over an overfilled centerpiece of fruit and nuts. We will slice wedges and slivers of classic pumpkin, reliable apple, and a dangerously wild nut pie. In an attempt to sail through November 22nd with the gracefulness of a Macy’s Day Parade balloon, do yourself a favor. Plan accordingly and plan ahead; well before Al Roker is wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving from the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West.