Ellen Gray is gearing up to bake nearly 600 pies for Thanksgiving—and to work 12-, 14-, and 16-hour days to pull it off. The baker at The Able Baker in Maplewood, New Jersey and the author of the forthcoming book Why Pie, Ellen has been rolling out pie shells since Halloween. And this week, it's show time.
She likens this Pie Olympiad—a huge number of pies baked in a comically small kitchen—to the mounting Broadway production. "It really involves all kinds of hands and talents"—and that includes baristas from front of house lured to help in the kitchen and customers off the streets, who volunteer for two-hour apple-peeling shifts.
Once the scene has been set, the rehearsals rehearsed, Ellen will open the doors to audience on Wednesday—"and there they are." She has to satisfy all pre-ordered pies while anticipating walk-ins closer to the meal itself: Customers can buy whole pies—pumpkin, pecan, apple, buttermilk, and cranberry apple—as late as 4 P.M. the day before Thanksgiving. But predicting how many to have ready for walk-in orders is an impossible gamble that sometimes leaves the bakery with 30 or 40 or extra pies come Friday.
But even though Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week will all glom into one long exhausting day (interspersed with a few naps) for Ellen, Thanksgiving remains her favorite holiday: "It’s kind of interesting that this is how I spend the days leading up to it—but it’s very rewarding. It’s a great job to do and to have, but it’s stressful. It’s a lot of stress over some butter and fruit.”
Now, straight from a pie Olympian, here are the tips we can apply to our own (albeit humbler) Thanksgiving baking challenges:
What's the biggest number of pies you've made in one week? Tell us in the comments!