The world has yet to right itself; last week Canadian Thanksgiving came and went and I never received my Porter Airlines boarding pass. It felt like being uninvited to both Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and New Jersey's Liberty Airport. The socially distant dinner hosted by my sister and attended by my Canadian peeps was not an option. Border crossings during a pandemic can be funny that way/not funny. The more I thought I about it, the more pie I consumed. I didn't discriminate; leftover pie, frozen leftover pie, fresh pie, collectively they made me feel better. Slightly buoyed by carbohydrates and pumpkin custard, I felt incrementally better until I glanced at the statistics flooding my inbox. The fact is domestic November festivities are also in a state of flux. Will we gather, should we gather, do we gather? Indoors? Outdoors? I wish I knew.
The day before yesterday, after closing the commercial freezer door on a leaning tower of pie shells and wandering towards my car, the NY Times Food Section posed a timely 2020 question in my newsfeed; “How Big a Bird Will Be Going Into the Oven?" https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/dining/thanksgiving-turkey-coronavirus.html
When I saw the words, ‘Big’ and ‘Bird’ used in the same sentence, for a brief instant, I thought perhaps this was a warm, fuzzy story about Muppets. Instead, it was a thought-provoking article exploring the plight of the turkey industry amidst an anything-but-normal Thanksgiving.
On a personal level, this Thanksgiving will be almost as unusual as last year. Unlike last year's surreal holiday without family, this year, we will expand our place settings from two to five. While maintaining a reasonable distance, we will circle a table that once accommodated upwards of a dozen guests. It is both sad and strange and undoubtedly, the turkey will be smaller than in years past. There will be no need for my over-sized roasting pan, the one I keep sequestered in a box on a metro shelving unit in the basement. An ordinary pan will do and there will be no brining and whining that the turkey is too heavy to maneuver from counter-top to oven. It will be a Goldilocks turkey, not too small and not too large, but just right with a little extra for leftovers.
The pie equation however, is dire. Not on the home front, but out in the retail bakery world. One of the great unknowns of this holiday is how much pie will be enough without being too much, and (perish the thought) without being too little. I have to believe that after many months of kitchen quarantine-ing, folks may very well have learned how to roll a pie shell, how to bake a pie. Maybe they watched a few hundred YouTube videos or actually signed up for a Master Class on Pie 101. Perhaps those on lockdown had time enough to peruse every single cookbook on their bookshelves and studied pate brisee, blind baking, and crumb crusts. It’s quite possible that during a seven or eight month time frame, you could binge watch every episode of MARTHA ever filmed, honing in on her pie tutorials.
The truth is we won’t really know what to expect until we (much like Wondra flour and gravy) are in the thick of it. Until I get a pulse on the state of pie and its holiday forecast, I’ll keep the butter cutter busy and the dough sheeter plugged in. My personal pie decisions will be made last minute; with Master/Master and Sweet Soprano on the other side of the border, it’s doubtful we’ll need an oversized Wild Nut Pie. The pumpkin selection will remain faithful to James Beard, but it’s the wild card pie, the one culled from a freezer stash of warm weather fruit that is uncharted territory. To be honest, the turkey is less stressful than all the pie shells swirling around in my subconscious and my reality.
It’s comforting to know that any unresolved questions can be fielded by the steady folks at the Butterball Turkey hotline and those in the know at the King Arthur Baking company. The sad truth is that the only certainty circling Thanksgiving is the uncertainty. Since I’m unable to travel to Canada and Canada can’t travel to me, can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm