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 think as you get older this idea of traditions changing can become more noticeable. And with two grown sisters, it’s inevitable that the holidays are going to start looking different sooner rather than later. This year we have a new addition, and my sister Rachael is actually doing all of the cooking while my mom has a much-deserved break. A few family friends will join us for the first time, and Zoe and I are scheming up a very un-Thanksgiving like dessert. Newness abounds. But there are old, important traditions, too. The way my mom and Cathy talk early in the morning about how long to leave the turkey in (after 30 some-odd years of doing it on their own, I’m certain they know, but it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving morning without the obligatory check-in), the Thanksgiving cocktail (thank you, Zoe), three onion casserole for Stefan, and the evening walk with the dogs after dinner.
It’s always kind of a chaotic, haphazard walk that begins with everyone lumbering around the house locating jackets and scarves and basketballs they may wish to bounce along the way. Dogs are leashed, dogs bark, and there’s inevitably someone who — right around this point–drops out of the walk and volunteers to do the dishes instead. On these walks I’ll sometimes turn around and look back and see “cousins” Kelsey and Elliot who have grown up before my eyes, the dogs who have slowly aged throughout the years, and the usually constant but little-bit-rotating crew of dinner guests — everyone’s shadows in the night. Well-fed, together: That brings the happy.
I recently discovered a sweet blog, Remedial Eating. In talking about her family’s Halloween this year, blog writer Molly Hays said, “And that’s when I remembered the important thing about traditions, that they’re only as good as the happy they bring. And sometimes that looks like repeating what was. And sometimes that looks like forgetting all that.” Both are important: remembering what was and keeping it if it works, but not being afraid to ditch it if it doesn’t. And welcoming the new with anticipation. This year there will be familiar happy and new happy, and I couldn’t be happier about both.
An appropriate recipe to share with you today is a pie. It’s part traditional and part completely new and innovative. I first saw it while flipping through the pages of Food and Wine while house-sitting for my mom a few weeks back, and knew it needed to happen. At its core, it’s a simple custard pie infused with apple cider, cloaked in a layer of lightly-spiced whipped cream and thin slices of baked apples. If you’re looking for a new Thanksgiving dessert, this could be a contender. If you’re set on a traditional apple pie, I might urge you to give this one a spin. You never know when a new tradition could be born.
The pâte brisée recipe yields enough for 2 9-inch pies, so you can go ahead and freeze the second disk for future use. Without the whipped cream, the pie will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Once you put it all together it’s really best the day of although the second day is o.k., too.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
Prepare the pie shell: Scatter flour across your work surface and roll out the dough to roughly an 11-inch round (don’t stress too much to get it exact). Lay it into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate and trim any overhand that exceeds 1 inch from the rim. Fold under and crimp. Chill in the refrigerator until quite firm, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans to weigh down the shell when baking. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is barely set. Remove the parchment and pie weights and cover the edge of the crust with strips of aluminum foil. Bake for about 15 minutes longer, until the crust is just set but not browned. If it starts to puff up, prick a few holes in it with a fork to release the air. Lower the oven temperature to 350°.
Make the custard filling: while the crust is cooking: In a medium saucepan, boil the cider until it’s reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Whisk in 3/4 cup of the sugar, the sour cream, nutmeg and salt, then whisk in the eggs. Remove the foil strips momentarily, pour the custard into the pie shell, and replace the foil strips.
Bake the pie for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custard is set around the edge but the center is slightly jiggly. Let the pie cool completely.
Prepare the decorative apple slices: While the oven is still hot, slice the red apple very, very thinly. Use a mandolin or work slowly and carefully with a sharp knife. You don’t want your slices to be too thin so as to be transparent, but close. Spray your baking sheet with non-stick spray or very lightly brush the slices with vegetable oil. Bake them until the edges start to curl up and they start to turn golden, roughly 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and the cinnamon until firmly whipped. Spread gently on top of the pie, cut into wedges, adorn with baked apples and a dash of cinnamon on top, and serve. If you’re not serving right away, refrigerate until you are. If there’s pie leftover, refrigerate — it will be great the next day, too.
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.