My maternal grandmother and I made pies together, just she and I in her carpeted (!) kitchen when I was about 5. She worked at a restaurant at the time, and would bring home these foil tart pans for me to use when we baked. They became my very own miniature pie dishes. My grandmother would roll out a beautiful sheet of cold, firm, smooth dough to make her pie crusts and hand me the scraps to re-roll into slightly warmer, slightly softer, slightly lumpier crusts for my tiny little pies. I would fill the small pie to my heart's content and decorate the crust however I chose. After a while, we would both smile with pride as our individual baking endeavors came out of the oven, golden brown and steaming.
I recall this memory every time I think about baking a pie. Each time I bake with my children I am aware of how special our shared time in the kitchen can be. I know that there is so much more than cooking instruction going on. They are reaping the benefits of being trusted. Trusted with measuring even if the flour gets spilled. Trusted with cracking an egg even if the shell gets into the bowl. Trusted with stirring even if the batter splatters across the wall a bit. Trusted with tasting before it's ready to serve. We are also coming together to lend a hand in completing something we can all enjoy. I can't help but feel that we do this more in baking than with savory dishes. In my family, we sometimes peeled potatoes or helped with other prep work for savory foods, but baking was together from beginning to end.
Thanksgiving time puts an even more significant meaning to making desserts. On this holiday, we often roll out desserts that our families look forward to enjoying annually. Maybe they are more complicated to make than others, or maybe they are just too sinful to eat more than once per year. We choose some desserts for the mere reason that they have just always been on the Thanksgiving menu. We may even think historically, and try to bake with items that are currently or once were part of the fall harvest. We open our kitchens to the vast array of family and friends who might be visiting for the holiday break. Even if you are baking alone, chances are you may be remembering the time you were taught a recipe. Or maybe you're in mind of who taught you that skill you're using for a new recipe you found on the internet. You will most likely sit down and share your food with a larger crowd than usual, with everyone being possibly more mindful of the whole meal than we usually are.
Desserts, and foods in general, certainly tell a story. The Thanksgiving table is a perfect venue for sharing these stories. The many questions we can answer about a sweet dish are part of the fun of creating it and sharing it with others. How did you learn the recipe? Who helped you make it the first time and this time? What time of year do you like to make this? Who gets to eat it? Where did you get your ingredients? How have you changed the recipe over time to be tastier or healthier? Why is it important to you to use whole foods? When are the plums just right for plum dumplings?
This Thanksgiving, consider the story that your dessert will tell, and the memories or values you can conjure up through it, or help create for the very first time. Food can be so very personal, and I hope you take the time to celebrate the story behind what you're enjoying. This may not be a traditional family anecdote of shared moments in the kitchen; your dessert may, instead, tell the story of the ingredients or the thinking behind your recipe. The people around your Thanksgiving table will learn from hearing about the local apple orchard where you got your pie's apples, or the cooperative market where you get your organic raisins. You'll gather with some who have never visited a local grain mill or a cranberry bog. You’ll dine with someone who has never tasted a vegan dessert or tried gluten-free muffins and, importantly, has never have considered why someone would choose these options. Even a bought, prepared dessert can tell the story of a passionate baker turned local entrepreneur. These stories could very well inspire someone sitting around your table. These stories may just be an important reminder of something old, or a taste of something new.