Let’s not mince words, pumpkin. On the last Thursday in November, it’s all about the pie. In a perfect Norman Rockwell illustrated world, we would all don our freshly pressed bib aprons at half past dark o’clock and methodically, merrily orchestrate Thanksgiving dinner. Bobbing between turkey and side dishes, rolling out a perfectly flaky pie crust or two (or three!) would be a breeze. Filled with apples, pumpkin, and pecans, the pies would pause to rest upon a deep kitchen windowsill overlooking the last of the autumn leaves.
While that scenario may be the ideal, the reality is that Thanksgiving day can make for a hot kitchen full of high-maintenance houseguest helpers, factors that can sap the attention and patience of even practiced pie bakers. All too quickly, the dream of homemade pies can crumble like pastry.
As a professional pie baker who will be rolling, crimping and filling upwards of 500 pies the week of Thanksgiving, I assure you that the quintessential ending to the Thanksgiving meal doesn’t have to be riddled with stress. The best way to embrace the upcoming holiday? Throw a little Pie It Forward party: a weekend afternoon prepping pies with pals. Unlike a pie social, which traditionally encourages attendees to bring a fully baked pie to the event, a Pie It Forward party serves as a holiday launch pad and strategy session with friends. Gather together some of your favorite pie peeps armed with their best-loved recipes and a few integral supplies to jump start your holiday pie prep. Here’s how:
Ask each guest to bring their own tools
A rolling pin, a bowl for mixing pie dough, one pound of unsalted cold butter, and two 9” aluminum pie plates. They may not be as pretty as some of the pie plates in your pantry, but aluminum tins are freezer friendly. Pastry blenders, dry measuring cups, offset spatulas, and microplanes are also welcome.
Create and divvy up a supply list
Have someone provide all-purpose or white whole wheat flour, someone else bring granulated sugar, and another guest supply brown sugar. Have a friend with a well-stocked pantry bring the spices: ground cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla beans. Have on hand a range of thickeners like flour, cornstarch, and tapioca. Another guest can bring parchment paper — which is great for rolling out pie dough — gallon and quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags, and Sharpie markers. My experience leads me to prefer butter for ease in handling the dough and flavor in the finished product, but if your guests prefer lard or shortening in their crusts, feel free to have them bring those to the party, too.
Prep pie crusts
At the party, each guest should prepare two recipes of pie dough. (One pound of butter will yield enough dough for two 9” double crust pies.) Once they’ve finished their discs of dough, stow the stash in the fridge. Allowing the dough to chill and rest for 30 minutes before rolling it out allows the pastry to relax, making it easier to roll and preventing shrinkage.
Portion sweetener and seasoning
While the pie dough cools its heels, measure out sugar, spices, and thickeners for each Thanksgiving day pie into its own ziploc bag. Basically, each guest is making their own pie-kits to which they can simply add fruit on the big day itself. Before beginning, jot down the fresh recipe ingredients directly on the bag using your Sharpie marker. For example, I write on a bag APPLE PIE- 8 apples/lemon zest and juice of one lemon. Then, I place cinnamon, nutmeg, a pinch of salt, granulated and brown sugars and thickener into it and seal it up. Using this method, all that needs to be done on Thanksgiving day is the peeling and slicing of apples and the zesting and juicing of a lemon. Mix these with the pre-measured sweetener, spices, and thickener and your pie filling is ready.
Get Rolling and Freezing
Retrieve the pie dough from the fridge. Roll out the bottom crusts and ease them into your pie plates, crimping the crusts decoratively. Pop these in the freezer. Shape what will be the top crusts of the pies, flattening them into discs and wrapping them well in plastic wrap. These will be frozen along with the bottom crusts and rolled out before baking your pies. The bottom crusts can be frozen until firm, stacked together, slid into a gallon-sized bag and frozen. If you prefer a crumb topping, prepare it ahead of time, put it in one of your freezer bags (labeled, please), and freeze.
While getting a jump on turkey-day baking is satisfying in its own way, this kind of pre-holiday get together also offers a chance to reconnect with the spirit of the holiday, consult the hive-mind, and consider others. Is there a family or an individual who might enjoy the gift of a homemade pie for the holiday? Consider prepping and gifting additional pies. There is no better, nor more welcome gift.
This little prep day is also a great chance to catch a glimpse of the Thanksgiving tradition of others, an opportunity to learn, to exchange recipes, and to discuss the attributes of leftover pie for breakfast. Be sure to ask questions and take notes. First time participant? Set up your own Pie Hotline by swapping phone numbers. So carve out an afternoon in the next few weeks to gather together, raise a rolling pin, and be thankful.
Photos by Emily Teel