I’m not at all a New Years person. I was trying to think about a memorable New Years that I’ve had and I actually can’t recall a one. Oh wait, I take that back. I do remember one New Years in college that involved a bathtub and a really bad taxi ride. But that’s another story altogether. I’m also not the kind of person who has any desire to get all anxious about making plans, really good plans, better plans than any year before. It just seems like a lot of work.
I had a boss once who would ride her bike up this great peak in Boulder, CO and spend the day alone. Just hanging and thinking and setting intentions for the year ahead. This is much more my style than expensive prix fixe meals or hotel parties. So while I didn’t ride up any major peaks today, I did bake a pie. A simple lemon pie — so simple, in fact, that the Shakers used to make this very same recipe well over a hundred years ago. It’s bright in citrus flavor with a rich, buttery crust that will make you smile. You do want to use Meyer lemons if you can get your hands on them. They’re not at all bitter and make for a truly magical pie. You deserve no less on New Years Day.
So I’ll leave you with a quote today from a novel I finished recently by Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin. While I realize you may not have any context for the quote, I think it says a lot about perspective and how to look forward in this upcoming year. When it comes right down to it–dreams and love and high, high aspirations aside– we all just do our best. That’s all there really is, yes?
“We stumble on … bring a little noise into the silence, find in others the ongoing of ourselves. It is almost enough. The world spins. We stumble on. It is almost enough.”
While you can count the ingredients for the filling on one hand, this pie does take a little planning as you should let your lemons macerate (hang out in sugar) for 24 hours if possible (if not, at least 4 hours; this isn’t accounted for in the timing breakdown above). To get a really incredible pie without a hint of bitterness, you want to slice your lemons as thin as possible. I use a mandolin and set it on the thinnest setting possible. You could very well use a sharp knife, too — just go for drapy, almost see-through slices. As for the crust, I love using vinegar in my pie dough–it prevents the formation of gluten (which makes for tough pastry) and helps to create a light, flaky pie.
Filling adapted from: The Joy of Cooking: All About Pies & Tarts
Flaky Butter Crust
Prepare your lemons very first thing as they need to sit for 4-24 hours (I recommend the latter). Grate the zest from your two lemons into a glass or stainless-steel bowl. Slice the lemons paper-thin, removing the seeds as you go. Put in bowl along with the zest and add sugar. Quickly toss, cover, and let sit at room temperature.
Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. In a food processor or by hand with a pastry cutter, blend the cold cubed butter into the flour mixture until it’s the size of small peas. Don’t obsess about the chunks being the same size. Uneven is good with crust. Work relatively quickly so the butter doesn’t warm. Combine the ice water and vinegar and add slowly in a thin drizzle, mixing during/after each addition. Many factors affect the moisture of pie dough, so you may find you’ll use less water or you may need a little more. Your dough is ready when it just barely begins to clump together and should have some dry bits remaining. Dump dough out onto a clean surface and split in half. Quickly form into 2 chubby disks and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour. You may also make the dough ahead — it’s good for 3 days in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to make the pie, take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll one half into a 13-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim any overhanging to 3/4 inch all around. Roll the other half into a 12-inch round for the top crust and lay on aluminum foil or parchment. Refrigerate both while making the filling.
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Then whisk in butter and flour until mixture is even. If you have clumps from your flour, pour the mixture through a sieve. Stir the lemon mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the filling into the bottom crust. Brush the overhanging bottom crust with cold water, cover with top crust and trim and flute the edges. Cut steam vents in the top crust. If top crust is sloping a bit and it seems like there’s not enough filling, don’t worry–the filling rises and the top crust comes right along with it.
Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake until top crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-30 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. The pie can be stored in the refrigerator for up to days, but let it warm to room temperature before serving.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.