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pie for you, pie for m
3 classic pies for the holidays

by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2 3 4 5

A few years back -- actually, longer even -- the boy and I flew out to LA from Tucson to do Thanksgiving with the SoCal contingent of my dad's side of the family. My brother was in med school at UCLA at the time, and quite a number of my cousins were living in the area as well; my aunt had very generously invited all of us to do dinner at her place. Having grown up on the other coast, I'd never spent Thanksgiving with this part of the family before, and had no idea what sorts of dishes would feature in my aunt's take on the traditional feast. But if there's one thing that unites my dad's clan, it's a near-fanatical love for good eating, and I was looking forward to gorging myself silly on the big day.

Though my aunt had, of course, insisted that we didn't need to contribute a thing, my brother had nonetheless offered to bring a little something for dessert. In our minds, that meant pie. Never mind that at that point, neither my brother nor I -- or my kitchen-phobic boy, who claimed to want no part of making any cooking decisions -- had ever before baked a pie in our lives; with our trusty copy of How to Cook Everything, we set out to decide what variety of pie we'd make. We nixed apple since we were certain someone else would already have that covered; we negged pumpkin because my brother wasn't that great a fan. We had just settled on blueberry when the boy piped up incredulously, "You're only making one pie? For all those people?"

I raised my eyebrows and shot him a withering look, but he continued his protest. "Come on, we usually have close to a pie per person at our Thanksgivings," he pleaded, "There are always a few apple pies, some kind of berry pie, maybe a pecan pie, occasionally a mincemeat pie that actually always seems a little weird to me, ooh, and a cherry cheesecake, and oh yeah, of course a couple of pumpkin pies…"

As his eyes began to glaze over in rapture at the remembrances of Thanksgiving pies past, I interjected to assure him that given my extended family's tendency to grossly overcook for any gathering, our single pie contribution would be more than adequate. Besides, I wasn't even entirely confident that our limited baking skills would be able to produce one presentable pie; I certainly didn't want to inflict more than one potentially bad pie on my food-obsessed loved ones. The boy gave a sigh of disappointment and an obligatory don't-say-I-didn't-tell-you-so. My brother and I set out to work on our blueberry pie.

As it turned out, the boy was right. Our contribution was the evening's sole dessert of the pie genre. There were other sweets, sure, all very tasty, and on the whole, the meal was a glorious gourmet extravaganza that left us happily stuffed to the gills. But to this day, the boy won't let me forget the year he only got to eat one pie at Thanksgiving. Worse yet, I had been right to doubt our ability to produce a decent pie; though our pie looked gorgeous, when it finally came time to slice into it, we discovered that the blueberries had turned into a watery soup during the baking process. I apologized profusely as folks started exchanging their dessert forks for spoons, and tried to ignore the boy's pointed stare.

That Thanksgiving taught me an important lesson: I realized that if I wanted to spend future holidays with the boy, I'd better start working on my pie skills. A couple of years ago, I finally perfected my piecrust technique. Now each Thanksgiving -- and Christmas too -- I find myself dreaming of pies galore. Here are a few of my favorites…

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