This year, for 9 minutes, we stopped to watch the parade balloons inflate. Then, we escaped the tourist-laden streets to have drinks with a friend. After drinks, we went on our pie-seeking way. We headed to the bakery ranked 3rd for the best pumpkin pie in the city. Why 3rd!? Well, numbers 1 and 2 were on the East side, or below 14th St, and the sun was setting fast on Thanksgiving eve. We rushed into the bakery flushed with hasty holiday warmth and anticipation. “We only have the big pies left”, they told us. Our gluttonous minds momentarily fixated on the words big pies, “ We’ll take one!”
On Thanksgiving Thursday, before turkey, and way before any actual conscious giving of thanks, we woke to coffee and a piece of this upper west side tertiary pie. The coffee was, as always, satisfying and delightful. The pie was—to my chagrin—not. Its disappointingly dense body rested in an overly buttery, almost greasy, un-crust. Our mouths considered it, but our hearts didn’t. We mumbled something, blamed ourselves for settling for 3rd, got dressed, and went to my Mother’s for the official celebration.
The meal concluded. And with perfectly cooked turkey behind us, we hunkered down for what we had really come for. My brother had made a pie from scratch, so we left the sub-par pie at home. Now this pie, my brother’s pie, was really something.
It looked as if the filling would spill out all over the table when sliced into, but it didn’t. The first piece I removed stood there on the plate, miraculously contained and regal. It would be a model for all pumpkin pies to come. To be precise, the filling was both pumpkin and yam. And the crust was an expression of ephemeral flakiness. My brother—who I always thought would have made a fine scientist—made the crust with vodka instead of water. The vodka wets the crust mixture at the right time but then evaporates completely when cooking, leaving no trace of vodka flavor, no sugary gluten, only a perfect pie crust in its wake.
With a dollop of lightly-sweetened whipped cream on top, we had what was probably the best, the lightest and most sublime pumpkin pie, ever. As we ate this pie together, we incidentally paused in silence. I know its flavor memory will flirt with our senses for Thanksgivings to come.