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As American As Pumpkin Pie

How to manage the perfect ending for your ­Thanksgiving Feast

The year is fast unfolding. In less than two weeks, we celebrate Thanksgiving.
    Food, family and gratitude for our blessings are the focus of that holiday. Food brings the family together and the gratitude forth. So about this time every year, we begin planning for the Thanksgiving feast.
    When the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest feast with the Wampanoag tribe at Plymouth, they would have dined upon seasonally available fowl, seafood, shellfish, game and side dishes.
    Thanksgiving feasts have evolved into opulent turkey dinners, yet most of us save room for dessert. Apple, sweet potato and pecan pies are Thanksgiving classics, but no dessert is more linked to this holiday than spicy pumpkin pie.
    Pumpkin has standing, as a native crop Indians kindly taught their invaders to grow. Putting pumpkin in a pie was a much later idea, but a good one.
    Pie in general and pumpkin pie in particular: We’re spending lots of our words on those subjects in this week’s paper.
    Satisfying dough around a tasty filling: That’s a succulent subject throughout the world. Press the edges of the dough around its filling into a self-contained package, and you’ve got ravioli in Italy, pot stickers in China and pierogi in Poland, all ready to go into pot or pan. (You’ll also read about local business Rogue Pierogies in this week’s paper.) Flatten out the dough and cover rather than fill it, and you’ve got pizza and its currently hip cousin flatbreads ready to go in the oven.
    Roll out the dough and press it into a pan, and you’ve got the foundation for French quiche on the savory side and tarte on the sweet side. Add a top crust and you’ve got the British Empire’s savory pies, high among them steak and kidney.
    Taking after our English foremothers’ pies, America’s pies are high and fully packed. They may be savory; would you say no to a nice chicken pot pie now that nights are growing cold? Still, the sweet pie is our national supremacy. American as apple pie, we say, and there’s truth in those words.
    History, too. If pie didn’t grow into an art in ­America’s farm kitchens, you’ll need a better story to tell me. Certainly every diner and bakery had its pies in St. Louis, the capital city of Middle America where I grew up. But not until I got to know small-town Illinois did I know the glory of pies. The pies on display at the Illinois State Fair — under three miles from my home — were as beautiful to me as the pictures in an art museum.
    The pie as a work of culinary art is our subject this issue. We bring you two stories to help you to that end, Pie 101, the recipe of “consummate pie maker” — so styled by her husband, writer Bob Melamud — Lyn Laviana. In Pie 202, we gild the lily, as writer Diana Dinsick describes her daughter Lauren’s artful top crusts and crustlets of seasonal cutouts. Could you do that?
    Me, probably not. My Italian mother — who cooked not only for us but also for our restaurant — adopted the cuisines of many nationalities. But pie, which she made only at Thanksgiving, was not her strong suit. Following in her culinary footsteps, I have no aptitude for pie.
    But if my pie-celebrity friends aren’t around for Thanksgiving dinner, I know where to buy pies that will satisfy my standards, thanks to Bob Melamud’s feature story, Thanksgiving’s Perfect Ending: For the Pros, It’s As Easy as Pie.
    Not everyone can bake a pie, and not everyone enjoys pumpkin pie. The bakers in Bob’s story offer many choices — though they’re not going to convince me it’s in the American tradition to eat lemon meringue pie at Thanksgiving.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com