I barely have time to celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual date. We're into the fifth year of making thousands of pies for that one day at Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
This holiday is now pie day for us.
We're trying to make 3,000 this year. We made 1,500 pies in three days' time last year. It was insane.
Thanksgivings blur together for me—and last year, I did overnight shifts. My sister leads the night baking crew. We have to get willing bakers to start working at midnight and bake until 6 AM. We change our schedule for a week. My sister, Melissa, maybe finishes by 6 AM on Thanksgiving morning and tries to get some sleep. By 3 PM—usually, blurry-eyed—we look at each other and say, "Should we go somewhere or just have a drink at home?"
Since I moved to New York 15 years ago, I have never gone home for Thanksgiving. It's always been a matter of, Whose Thanksgiving party can I crash this year? People know that we're holiday orphans, in a way. I'm waiting for the day when we have time to cook on our own again. I'm sure it will happen again someday, but the last thing I'm going to do is come home and cook an entire Thanksgiving meal.
Nowadays, I definitely consume more wine on Thanksgiving than I ever have, because by the time we finish making thousands of pies, we close up shop at noon.
But Thanksgiving is an important holiday for my family. My sister and I grew up in a farm town in South Dakota. Our father is a corn farmer. Our mom used to run her own restaurant. We always had a huge family meal. She closed up the restaurant on that day. We'd put all the tables in the house together to make one big, long table in the kitchen. There was pheasant and always turkey.
We had the Norman Rockwell-type memories. Grandma's sweet potatoes were really good. So were her pies. We always had pumpkin and apple pies. It was a big feast with stuffing, turkey, cranberries, weird Jell-O mold-type salads, relish trays—the good stuff. There was always gravy and mashed potatoes, some kind of bread or roll, and corn pudding.
Nowadays, I definitely consume more wine on Thanksgiving than I ever have, because by the time we finish making all of those pies, we close up at noon. We pass out. I should probably hate the holiday by now, but I love it. When you're in the food industry, you're always working on holidays.
Once it's all done, sometimes we'll do something on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but we mostly relax. We recuperate, lay low, deal with the aftermath, and get the shop ready to open for the weekend. We really don't get to celebrate until after Christmas is over.
It's fairly easy to make a pie from leftovers, whether it's a small pocket pie or big savory one with turkey, corn, potatoes, and gravy. You'd definitely need some gravy in there. You could have a little cranberry on the side or in it. From a sweet perspective, the corn custard you make for corn pudding could become a pie, but you'd have to do a little bit of tweaking.
It's fairly easy to make a pie from leftovers, whether it's a small pocket pie or big savory one with turkey, corn, potatoes, and gravy. Just douse that thing with gravy.
A sweet potato pie is an obvious one when you've got leftovers. If you took my grandmother's sweet potatoes—which she fried in butter and then topped with dark corn syrup—and made them into a custard, that'd be delicious. Whether you've got turkey, pheasant, or Cornish hens, a game pie could be really yummy if you added in some vegetables. Say you did any of the late season vegetables, whether it's squash or Brussels sprouts, that'd be delicious with the bird. It's always the dark meat and the fatty stuff, and you could easily make a filling with that and some gravy or leftover cooking juices. The main thing with savory pies is making sure you have enough moisture because they tend to dry out if you don't have something to keep them moist. I don't know if you'd want to put corn pudding into the savory pie because that may end up over-cooking and tasting weird and eggy. Just douse that thing with gravy. Maybe have a layer of mashed potatoes, a layer of turkey, and a layer of gravy. There's always so much left on a bird carcass that you can repurpose into a pie.
When it comes to making really good pie crust, it shouldn't be an afterthought. It's as much a part of the pie as the filling. Make it by hand. You can use tools and machines to cut the butter into the flour, but finish it by hand. I'm not really into the store-bought stuff. It should have a flakiness that is indicative of a handmade crust. It shouldn't be pasty or cracker-like or dry or brittle; it should be flaky, have a nice texture, and be a little pliable—almost like laminated dough, but not quite that far. It shouldn't be like a croissant but it also shouldn't be like a cracker. A sandy, shortbread quality isn't good. It should be somewhere in between, where it's buttery, flaky, and what you want to eat. I like an all-butter crust, but I also like a little lard mixed in if it's good lard.
If you're going to make a pie, make the crust. Just do it.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.