The Pie Dough
Wake up early in the morning. There may be some blushes of pink outside the window, but that’s it. Start the coffee pot, but don’t make too much yet. If you did this right, no one else will be up for a while. You just need enough to help you get started.
Get out flour, salt, and sugar. Mix together, adding a little extra sugar because (if you did this right) it’s Christmas morning. Good, when you’re done, it should almost look like snow.
Find the canister of shortening that’s been lying around since Thanksgiving. Now get the butter. Measure, and slice both into the bowl. Add a splash of vodka before you start mixing—it will help to make the dough easy to work with later.
Find the old pastry blender. The one with the wood handle that was Grammy’s once, and has never been replaced. Start cutting the ingredients together, mixing the fat into the dry. It will be hard at first; you’ll have to work at it. Your mother did this once, and her mother before. By the time you’ve finished, the light will really be up now and the first sounds of movement will be coming from upstairs.
Roll the dough into four tight balls, refrigerate. Make more coffee.
Now it’s time to find helpers. At least one of them should be wearing slippers. Make them leave their books and new gifts underneath the Christmas tree, and set them to peeling the apples. They’ll see who can cut the longest strip of apple peel, and all will fail miserably. After peeling, cut the apples into quarters, then eighths. There will be a lot of apples to cut, so you should talk about something lovely. Or not talk at all. Maybe just hum Christmas carols, the ones you sing in church.
While they’re cutting, mix together cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Realize that the ground cloves have been expired for three years. Shrug. Use them anyway.
Take two balls of dough out from the fridge. Roll out both on the kitchen counter. Don’t bother trying to form a perfect circle, only God could manage that. Grease a pie plate, and with much-practiced finesse, place the rolled out dough over and into it. Perfect.
Mix the apples and spiced sugar together, and eat a few—they’re not all going to fit into the pie anyway. Add a little bit of flour, cut more butter in. Cut even more butter in. Add the other half of the dough on top, and crimp the edges until all is sealed tight. Set to the side.
There isn’t anything special to this.
Find the can of pumpkin pie filling in the pantry, and read the recipe on the back. Do exactly as it tells you.
Save it for when the dogs are distractedly begging for their walk, or when the guests start to come over and talk while you cook. If you’re doing this right, you’ll have made this a hundred times before, so you’ll barely need to think as you mix in the eggs, the ginger, the nutmeg.
Make more coffee—it will be running low by now. Then roll out the third ball of dough, and place it in a greased pie pan. Pour in the mixed pie-filling, right up to the brim. Move it to the side, careful not to let it spill or slosh over the edges. Cover with tinfoil, mostly to keep it hidden and away from eager tasters.
Then relax. You’ve got some time.
Roll out the last piece of dough.You’ve saved the most complicated for last.
Find butter, and begin melting it over the stove. Mix in brown sugar, lots of brown sugar, and stir until everything is syrupy and smooth. Turn off the gas, and mix in all of the really delicious and terrible things for you—corn syrup, vanilla, salt and orange zest. It should be gooey and sweet by now. Beat a few eggs together in a separate bowl, and stir everything together.
Your hands are full now, and you need to finish quickly before the syrup starts to cool and harden. Yell at someone to turn the oven on to 350, and toss a bunch of pecans in the bottom of the pie pan. Pour the butter-mixture over the top, and if you’ve done it right, the pecans will start to float to the surface.
Everything’s ready, and it’s time to bake. Put all three of the pies in, and wait. Don’t bother doing the dishes.
Setting the Table
And now, if you’ve done this right, what you’ll remember of this Christmas isn’t what it felt like to unwrap the first present, or the rude thing that Grandpa said, or how the dogs spilled the bacon on the floor. You’ll remember sitting around the table with your whole family close, and setting the three beautiful pies you’ve made in the center. You’ll remember how they taste. You’ll see the smiles on the faces of the ones you love so dearly, and you’ll remember Christmas when you were young, and how your mother, and her mother before, made pies just like this on Christmas Day.
It’s a small part of Christmas, isn’t it? The making and sharing of pies.
For what is Christmas if not a celebration of the ones who have come before you; and who one day—around a very different table—you will see again?