The Thank Goodness for Pecan Pie Issue
Dear Fellow Bakers and Friends,
Just as you were wondering what to do with leftover pumpkins, I have created yet some new harvest recipes to make short work of last night's ghoulish gourds. Beyond recycling pumpkin, there is American Thanksgiving to look forward to, in spirit, if not officially on the calendar on this side of the border. In Canada, where I am, November 23rd is the holiday more officially known as the 25th Day After Daylight Saving Time. Strangely, school, offices and banks remain open and the day passes with barely a nod. But as a baker with American friends (and editors), I am delighted to share recipes for Thanksgiving, Part Deux, as it were, to make your table shine. For fellow Canadians, I ask, who is going to say no to rustic sweets that warm this chilly month? You too can also enjoy a reprise of a full nine-yards Thanksgiving dinner all over again. I know I will. You can't test these recipes and not whet your appetite for yet another turkey-and-trimmings feast.
To me, November is also the second showcase of the pie playoffs (summer fruit pies being the first act). In this issue, I am especially proud to feature both the recipe and gorgeous photograph of the pecan pie recipe from my new cookbook, A Passion for Baking, (Oxmoor House, 2007). A Passion for Baking, is coming along beautifully - it is a fairytale of a baking book. Enjoy this wonderful pecan pie from the Holiday Chapter.
Of course, once you are doing pie, you need to do it right, which is why this issue is devoted to teaching pie tricks and sharing some amazing pie dough recipes. My own feeling is that when you are hosting a crowd and serving a big meal, pie is just the thing to serve. It is a bit lighter than cake, you can make a few varieties to please various tastes, and pies can bake (if not done before) in the still-hot oven as the turkey is carved. More than this, pie is homey and nostalgic, which is what holidays, if not the very mood of November, call for.
Funny thing about the holidays - I am always flooded with emails that request I discover something 'new' to do with the same old, same old. New turkey, better sweet potatoes, novel succotash, or an innovative stuffing. I love new; I adore creativity and invention but here's the thing. Well, two things.
First - what makes holidays the holidays IS the same old, same old. Even bad tastes good if it is made by people we love or eaten with people we love. That is what makes memories the warming stewpot of sameness we can count on. Those special gather-round times is when I don't want to experiment too much because as creative as that is, for me, that also means it is work. I like the meditative feeling I get in doing the same prep and kitchen tasks each recipe demands. It is a ritual of sorts. And while they might disagree, I think my sons like groaning over fetching bridge chairs, putting away hot soup in the fridge in the garage and complaining over baking the bread because their mother has suddenly announced she needs girl down time an hour before company arrives. This is all what makes us 'us' or the holiday version of ourselves. Don't all families all have a holiday version of ourselves? We invent ours season by season, year by year.
Part of how I relax is by not reinventing the wheel or doing the 'chef' thing at holiday times. Sure, I love adding one new dish, altering a spice, launching an new squash entrĂ©e, and gently easing in a new tradition into the fabric but overall, I want the menu to be a backdrop of flavor and the real offering to be, the company at hand. I don't want the food to upstage the people and I want the food I serve to be both comfortable and comforting. This is the best of classic fare - flavorful and honed but not so out there that that hit of familiarity is lost.
Rent the movie Carolina, which is worth it for the riveting performance of Shirley McClaine who steals every scene. The Thanksgiving dinner is the high point of the film, as relatives line up, on a lawn reminiscent of Trailer Park Boys (oh Canada!), and individually microwave plates of Thanksgiving dinner! But somehow, it is still Thanksgiving in feeling and by the end of the movie, that same dinner scene, (minus Shirley) will bring tears because it is exactly how we do, what we do, in its best and imperfect moments, that makes it 'ours' or 'us'.
The second point concerns some chef ambivalence, vis a vis fiddling with Thanksgiving and other holiday menus. This is more technical than emotional.
In tango recently, Julio, one of my teachers, was bemoaning the rage for Nuevo Tango music which I happen to love. What is nuevo tango or new tango? It is almost anything but with a tango pulse to it. You take a few parts Latin, tango heritage and then a walk on the wild side. Think Eleanor Rigby, electronica style, or strange remixes of Sting, a bit of fusion, jazz - but all somehow tethered to tango. Whatever. It is incredibly cool. It is very different music but somehow it still gets served up in a tango that you can dance to it and your very soul pulses in response. "Terrible, comments Julio, who is kinda young to be so old-fashioned but so very Argentinean, I think he is entitled to have any opinion he likes on tango. Julio's parting shot on nuevo tango? "How much can they change it and push the limits and still pretend its tango?"
I guess he has a point. I mean, in baker's terms, each recipe has a heritage and roots. I don't mind sundried tomatoes and chevre, roasted garlic bagels on taste merits but the truth is - is that bagels? How much can you push something and not have it wind up as just an echo of what it is and was or simply a vehicle of creativity that has little to do with anything? There's creative and there's coyly pandering with stuff -and forgetting the history and heritage of anything. And trust me, each recipe has a heritage and that goes back further than the Mayflower.
Heritage is a lively thing and like families, it evolves. But you do that by nodding to the past while looking towards the shores of a new land all at once. Sort of like the Pilgrims, come to think of it.
Now, in tango, since I am a card-carrying Nuevo tango dancer, this doesn't bother me. I know tango's history and I respect it but I love the new generation of tango music and steps. But in food, I tend to respect classics and history. I love making what is old, better but not out-rightly replacing it for the sake of capitalizing on something quite beside the point and having no relationship to its impetus. Anyway, this is how I feel today. Tomorrow I am sure to be adding vanilla to cod filets or candied ginger to the spoon bread. Who knows? And I bet someone took umbrage with Mrs. Wakefield when they discovered she added chocolate chunks to a Butter Do-Drops Cookie recipe. So there you go....
On the home hearth report and because we are about to dive into hospitality and family season, one last note. Recently, we celebrated a milestone birthday for one of my brothers. A crew of 25 or so relatives of all stratas (second cousins and second cousins once-removed and first cousins my marriage etc.) ended up at a homey, Russian restaurant. And yes, I did indeed bring dessert. Three of them: Strawberry S'mores Cheesecake to-be-posted one day soon, Chocolate Mousse cake nowin the new book, and a French Strawberries and Cream Layer cake, also to be written up soon). Talk flowed, Chicken Kiev was devoured, as well as borscht, blini, and fried potato dumplings served with sour cream and caraway seeds. On the drive home, my older son commented, that, 'Food is really connective. It brings people together and somehow, at the table, even though it is a meal we are eating, it seems to be the secondary purpose. Food is really something'. Yes, love. It really is, I said. Inside I was jubilant, 'By George, he's got it! I think the kid has finally got it'. My work here is (almost) done.
Happy November and Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends, and to fellow Canadians, enjoy our annual 25th Day After Daylight Saving Time holiday. It's all good if it comes from the heart.
Warm wishes from Wheatland,
Editor, Baker, and Host
Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:
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