Editor’s Note: This is one of five essays by Post staffers explaining how they realized a solution to a persistent Thanksgiving problem.
When you marry into a family — even a family as kind and welcoming as my husband’s — there is a conflicting desire at holiday time to not mess with tradition while still contributing something memorable.
My in-laws’ Thanksgiving table was reliably overflowing every year. The only item I insisted on adding was my family’s Cranberry Sauce Mold (hello, Jell-O!). But then what? I looked at what was already on the menu. Was there something to which I could add my personal flair, and a little love?
Ah, yes. The pumpkin pie. The one that for so many years had been baked with frozen, store-bought crusts. My father-in-law went to the effort to meticulously make the filling as described in his yellowed, stain-splattered notebook. Didn’t the crust deserve the same kind of attention? The answer from the family: a resounding yes. Have at it, they told me.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with various crusts. All butter. Butter and shortening. With vodka. Without vodka. Mixed with a pastry cutter. Mixed in the food processor. Mixed with my fingers!
Most recipes call for a nine-inch pie dish, but we typically use a behemoth 10-inch Pyrex and a 91 / 2-incher. I quickly realized that to have enough crust, I’d have to scale up recipes.
That presented its own set of difficulties. The memory is a bit fuzzy — my mind has blocked out the details as a coping mechanism for the trauma — but I remember at one point doubling or one-and-a-halving a recipe that did not take kindly to multiplication. Neither did my food processor.
Then there’s the whole matter of decorating. I dream of the perfect fluted crust, but it never happens. My ripples vary in height and width. By the time I get to the second pie, I usually resort to the ol’ press-a-fork-into-it “design.” Defeatist, I know.
The next go-round, I may opt for some of Libbie Summers’s sassy suggestions from her book “Sweet & Vicious: Baking With Attitude” (sounds like me, all right). Rather than using your thumb or mere flatware, she suggests pressing the edges with a corkscrew, measuring spoon, metal tongs or, my favorite, a string of oversize pearls.
Every year, I fall into the same pattern of angst followed by bliss and a sense of accomplishment.
My yearly aha moment comes down to this: No matter what it looks like, no matter how long it takes me, the buttery taste and flakiness of a homemade crust always beats store-bought. The family backs me up on that verdict.
You’d think all the stress would make me relieved to have a respite from crust duty this year, when my husband’s family will relocate the meal to Alabama while I stay behind.
But, no. I will miss it. And them.
More Thanksgiving Aha! moments: