We've gotten into a routine around Thanksgiving. My parents fly into town and we all gather at my sister's place. David grill-roasts the turkey. My sister and mom do the sides. Dad does the dishes. Ammie and I bake the pies.
Ammie and I have been cooking co-conspirators since we met some five years ago. Our projects have occasionally blossomed completely out of control, leaving us too spent and saturated by flavors to be much interested in eating. But the Thanksgiving guest list this year was small, so when we gamed out the baking Monday night, we decided to be sensible and take it down to four pies. Then Shannon and Ryan said they could make it and we were back up to five pies. There are certain principles involved. The only proper ratio at Thanksgiving is at least 1/2 pie per person.
I mixed up three batches of pie dough yesterday afternoon and stashed them in the fridge. Kenji Lopez-Alt's Easy Pie Dough is all butter and super-reliable. Ammie came over after work last night and we knocked out the three non-fruit pies: a pumpkin pie and chocolate pudding pie from Smitten Kitchen, and shoofly pie from the Joy of Cooking. We gathered again this morning and baked the cranberry pie—another Smitten Kitchen recipe (I probably owe Deb residuals)—and Alton Brown's apple pie.
Everything went surprisingly smoothly. The biggest danger came from the cats, who after appearing disinterested most of the day, suddenly became quite inclined towards the all butter crusts. Odin was so bent out of shape by being told that he couldn't have any pie that he raced around the apartment in frustration for 10 minutes and then settled on top of the refrigerator, where he plotted how he might steal a bite of butter by launching over our shoulders onto the kitchen island.
While the last pie baked, Ammie pulled my old copy of Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking off the shelf and browsed through it. I hadn't thought about Colwin in a while. In the introduction, she writes about how different the modern family holiday dinner is from the Norman Rockwell image of the past. She really captures what I love about Thanksgiving: not just the nuclear family, but the mixture of friends, varied in every way. When I look back on all the Thanksgivings that my family has celebrated here in Chicago, I remember not only the food, but the wonderful hodgepodge of people that become family around the table.