When daylight saving gives us an extra hour of sleep on a Saturday night and the sun sets so early that I think it’s 9 p.m. when it’s only 5 p.m., I know it’s time for the holidays. I enjoy all the fall and winter holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, but for me, Thanksgiving isn’t quite what it used to be
When I was young, my family went to Aunt Kathleen and Uncle George’s house each Thanksgiving, along with Aunt Colette, Uncle Squire and my cousins. My mom was famous in the family for her pumpkin pie, so every year, we would bring four pies to the Thanksgiving spread. Although I loved the food and the people on Thanksgiving Day, it was the night before that was especially endearing.
Immediately after supper, my mom would start prepping her pies— pulling out cans of pumpkin puree and evaporated milk. She mixed the ingredients in our large, stainless steel pot, the only container big enough to hold all of the ingredients. She was particular about the spices, taste-testing for the right combination, then adding a dash here and teaspoon there. Some years, we had pies that tasted heavily of cloves; other years, nutmeg sparkled on our tongues.
After the filling was perfected, she began creating the crust, which was the best part for us kids and the worst part for my mom. My siblings and I watched closely as she crumbled flour, salt and Crisco between her fingers, then added water until the dough stuck together. We helped get the pie plates ready by swirling Crisco on the bottom and sides with a napkin.
Sometime during the evening, Uncle Squire would arrive to create his contribution to the dinner—cranberry-orange sauce. Because he was a bachelor and didn’t have much need for kitchen gadgets, he didn’t own a blender, a necessary accouterment for making cranberryorange sauce. My dad, of course, was in the kitchen as well, inputting commentary when necessary. So there we were in the kitchen—my mom, dad, Uncle Squire and one, two, three or four kids.
We didn’t have much counter space, so every year, my dad would pull out a leftover piece of laminate that my mom used to roll the dough. She patted and rolled and cursed her dough. And when it was ready, she yelled at us to watch out while she flipped the crust from the surface to the plate. After trimming the edges, my mom let us have the leftover pieces to mash together and play with. We would beg her to cook our mini-pie creations, but in the end, Mom made us toss our dough in the trash.
The best part was always last—slipping the pies into the oven. By the time the second set of pies was ready to bake, it was past our bedtime. We were tucked into bed while the pies baked, the smell wafting up the stairs and into the bedroom, where we would be lulled to sleep by the scent of pumpkin and spices. It was the best night’s sleep of the year.
Kate Wallace lives in St. Charles with her husband and three cats, where she revels in all things pumpkin from September to December.