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how can i not be so anxious about pie/how can i stop comparing my pie to everyone else's pie?
how do i not get into an inadvertent dessert competition at thanksgiving?
how do i tell people that i want to make a pie in solitude without their help and advice?
how can i decide what kind of pie to make when there are so many options out there?
how many pies is too many pies to make in one day?
Stressed About Pie
I feel you. I really do. Pie is stressful and scary and anyone who tells you otherwise has been making pie on a regular basis for years or at least months, or they are a savant, or a liar.
Pie is also a traditional Thanksgiving food, and is heavily promoted as something you should want to bake during the months of October and November, if you have the tiniest iota of taste or skill. Magazines and blogs and websites (this one included) flaunt photos of beautiful pies, golden crust, fillings of apple and pumpkin and pecan, as if to demand them from you but then also assure you that yes, you can.
This does not change the fact that pie is misery-making. I myself have cried about pie no fewer than five times. One of those times was at the Thanksgiving table, as my family assured me that eating the grey, soggy mass in front of them was a positive experience. Lots of mmmmms and second helpings as I quietly morphed, Alex Mack-style, into a puddle of self-hatred and disappointment.
So this year I am going to give you some controversial advice! Here goes: Don’t make pie on Thanksgiving. This is the only sure-fire way to keep it from driving you insane.*
If a kitchen project stresses you out—pie, sourdough bread, porchetta, whatever—that stress will be compounded when paired with a holiday that’s already high-stakes in its sheer existence. It’s like trying your hand at Jacques Pepin’s rolled omelette on a first date: You’re flustered enough as it is; no need to make things worse for yourself. Unless you’re a masochist, but if you’re a masochist, what the hell are you doing reading an advice column intended to make your life more bearable?
This is not to say that attempting to master pie is without merit. I myself am in the middle of a likely lifelong journey towards commanding the art and science of pie. But a pie journey should be a personal one, one that you first begin to tackle alone, in the safe little cocoon of your own kitchen where the only person to disappoint is yourself. Until you feel really comfortable with pie, so comfortable that it doesn’t cause you to hyperventilate, you shouldn’t make it at Thanksgiving.
More: Rose Levy Beranbaum's best tips for Thanksgiving pies—for when you don't follow my advice.
There is, of course, a beautiful middle ground here, a place where you can make just-okay pies and serve them to friends. Indeed, you should. Baking a pie and not having anyone to share it with—even if it hasn’t met all of your expectations—is a sad thing. Pie is one of the great joys of life! Pie is a reason to invite some people over. But start small: a handful of friends who feel lucky to have any sort of home-baked dessert in front of them make for a much gentler crowd than a house full of family members looking for the platonic ideal of pecan pie.
So make a pie in solitude the week before Thanksgiving, or the week after. Bake one tonight, if you feel like it. Bake a pie every weekend! But do it because you want to, not out of obligation. This is all supposed to be fun, after all.
Or, make a pie with a cookie crust and save yourself the hassle.
*Unless, of course, you’ll be racked with guilt because you feel that the world expects you to make a pie, or at least your family does, and the pain of not living up to others’ expectations is worse than the acute anxiety and aching disappointment which can so easily go along with pie-making, to which I say, talk to your therapist about this!
Photos by James Ransom, Linda Xiao, and Mark Weinberg