My hands still smell faintly of Bell’s poultry seasoning.
I went early to my mother’s house to do the traditional Stuffing of the Bird. She had already chopped the bread. I got there and chopped celery and onion…measured out herbs…mashed and browned breakfast sausage…and after a lot of struggle, I also managed to pull that plastic thing that holds the legs together out of the turkey cavity. Why is it there? Just to annoy people, I think. I wonder how many people have cooked it by mistake.
This Stuffing of the Bird is pretty traditional with my mother and me. Sometimes my sister has come over too, but as she has said on occasion, "Jayne is the stuffing girl." Yep. Stuffing is my favorite part of the meal. I am a starch addict – I freely admit it. I don’t need turkey at all to be happy – just the stuffing and some gravy and I’m all set.
We just do a pretty traditional bread stuffing. The "plain" stuffing goes in the cavity, and then the browned sausage gets mixed with some more of the plain stuffing and is then stuffed into the neck cavity. Mom couldn’t find her little skewers, so we secured the skin with a lobster pick. Whatever works.
The bird went in at nine. I came home shortly after and have been home with husband and kids since then. We’ll head back to my mom’s house around one thirty and dinner will be around three with my parents, my family, and my sister and her family.
Last night I baked my contribution to today’s meal – pumpin pie. Well, no – squash pie. My father prefers squash. He is the only one who notices any difference, I think. But still – we buy the canned squash rather than the pumpkin. Because he will know.
Alex was my sous chef. I’d told him earlier that he could help me make the pies (one for dinner today, the other for "leftovers" at our house) and he was looking forward to it. So much so that he burst into tears at the prospect of eating dinner before we got started. Reluctantly he ate half his meatball grinder and then after I cleared the table and he washed his hands, we began.
Julia wanted to help too, of course, so both kids dragged chairs from the dining room into the kitchen and positioned them on either side of my main work table. I had my huge white ceramic bowl out to make the dough. The bowl is nothing fancy – just plain white – it’s made in Italy and there are chips in the rim from where I’ve banged it against some sinks over the years. I love it.
I’d already measured out the flour and salt. Next in was the chilled butter, cut into little cubes. I couldn’t find my pastry blender – I’m sure I’ll find it some time in January – so I used an old one that Bill’s mom had had. It’s just two metal blades attached to a single handle. Takes a bit longer to get all the butter worked in, but that’s okay.
Julia wanted a turn. Since it was nearly her bedtime, I let her go first. She mashed away at the butter and I scraped off any that stuck to the blades…Alex repeated that he wanted a turn and I reassured him that he would have a turn soon. Bill got out the DVD camera and filmed a bit of our activity. Then he collected Julia and took her upstairs and Alex and I continued. Once we got the butter worked in, and the mixture "resembled coarse crumbs" it was time to add the shortening. We worked that in until "it formed cysts" or something like that – I don’t remember the wording. Anyway, Alex and I took turns with that process, and then we added in the ice water – a little at a time – until the dough came together. I separated it into two balls, wrapped them in plastic and put them in the fridge to chill.
On to the pie filling. I had two cans of "One Pie" brand pie filling, and I got out all the other ingredients – sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg, eggs, and milk – and set them out on the counter. Then I read the directions to see what temperature to set the oven at. Now. I’ve made squash or pumpkin pies for some time now, and the directions seemed wrong. They said to bake the pie for 20 minutes at 375. And I could have sworn that I remembered it as starting out the process with an oven temp of 425, and then lowering it to 375. I read the back of the can again, just in case I had read something wrong – or not at all. Nope. Twenty minutes at 375. Weird. It just isn’t right. I checked the other can – same deal. Okay fine, maybe I’m losing my mental faculties. It’s quite possible.
I opened the cans and dumped the contents into my big (washed out) white bowl.
"Yucky!" was Alex’s reaction. I told him what it was, but that didn’t matter. He still thought it was yucky. I told him he’d feel differently once it was transformed into pie.
In a separate bowl he mixed the sugar and salt, and then I showed him how to measure the spices out with a measuring spoon. He carefully leveled off the contents of each spoonful and dumped them into the sugar and salt. He whisked them together and we poured them into the bigger bowl with the pureed squash. Then he and I (taking turns) mashed the sugar and spice mixture into the
pumkin squash until they were "combined well" (per the directions.)
And then I taught him how to crack an egg.
First I showed him how I do it: I crack the side of the egg on the table, and then gently open the shell and drop the egg into the bowl. I gave him one to try. First time out he tapped the egg too lightly and nothing cracked. A bit more force, and it cracked perfectly. I told him to go ahead and open it into the bowl – and he basically gripped the egg in the middle with both sets of fingers and then smashed his fingers through the egg and pulled the halves apart. Yolk and white and shell fell into the bowl, onto the table, and onto the floor. "But that’s okay, right Mommy?" Right Alex. Successful egg cracking takes practice.
Round two. New bowl, new eggs. I did one again, and this time I showed him how you only need to push against the cracked part with your thumbs, and then pull them away at an angle to the rest of the egg (this is difficult to describe – I keep wanting to lift my hands off the keyboard and demonstrate) and let the contents drop into the bowl, which is directly below your hands so nothing ends up on the floor.
His turn. Not bad at all! Broke the yolk, but who cares? It’s going to get mixed with the rest of the filling anyway. Want to try again? Yes!. This time – perfection! "The round part didn’t break!" And same with the fourth egg. Yay! He did it!
We added milk and whisked that together, and then added it to everything else already in the bowl. Then I took out the dough and showed him to roll it out.
Now – I should have let it chill longer, but since I wanted Alex to have the whole experience, I took the dough out too soon. Ah well. No harm done. We rolled out one ball of dough and set that into one pie pan, and did the same with the other ball of dough. I crimped the edges of one of them, and just left the other plain. And we had a fair amount of leftover dough too – I always make more than I need because I never seem to have enough when I only make what the recipe calls for. I know I must be doing something wrong if that’s the case, but I haven’t figured out what it is, so I just make extra. Far less stressful that way.
Alex used a ladle to pour the filling mixture into each pie shell, and into the oven they went. Now – what about the leftover dough? We actually had leftover pie filling too (one of the pie pans was smaller than the other) so I got out a smaller casserole dish and pressed some dough into that – in a very rustic pattern – some sticking up higher, some lower, all around the edge. Poured the last of the filling in, and into the oven that went too.
And there was still some more dough left. I dug around in my pantry – which, by the way, is indesperate need of reorganizing – and found a little round cake pan – maybe 3 inches in diameter – that I’d inherited from Bill’s mom. Perfect. I pressed the last scrap of dough into that and showed Alex how to dock the dough. Docking is just pricking the dough so it won’t puff up. You can buy a little gadget called a docker to do this – or you can use a fork. Much more fun to use the fork, especially if you’re a four-and-almost-a-half-year-old boy. I popped that into the oven and let it bake for about five minutes while I cleaned up and Alex hung out nearby. The timer went off – and – what to fill it with? No more pie filling, and nothing else really ready to use. So – half peanutbutter and half strawberry jam. Back into the oven it went. And finally off to bed went Alex.
The whole time we were working on the pies I was remembering when I was little and my mother was making pies and I watched and helped and learned. She’d give me little scraps of dough to make my own creations…inedible though they may have been. The main thing was, I was allowed to participate. And it’s a nice feeling to carry that into my own little family.
And you know, I was quite right about the directions on the can being wrong. Those pies (except the peanutbutter and jam pie) all took a lot longer than 20 minutes – as I knew they would. I don’t really know how long each one took – but I know that with custard pies, you bake until it’s just a little jiggly in the center. I feel bad for someone who hasn’t made a pumpkin (or squash) pie before – it will still be soupy if you pull it out that soon, and crust isn’t baked properly either.
Alex had his peanutbutter and jam pie for breakfast while I was at my mom’s house. Half of it anyway. Bill have the other half to Julia, but she wasn’t crazy about it. She opted for cereal.
And while I was at my mom’s house I told her about the directions on the cans…and she went poking around in her mini-pantry/closet – and found an older can – same brand, same contents – AND – the directions were DIFFERENT from the ones on my cans. HA! I was right! Bake at 425 for 20 minutes and THEN reduce to 375 and cook for another 40 minutes or so. So there!
And that’s about it for me. I’ll need to get Julia up from her nap soon – though I don’t think she’s sleeping – and get the kids dressed and me dressed and Bill can dress himself…and out the door and into the car and over the river and through the woods, so to speak.
It’s cold and rainy here today – which doesn’t bother me at all – I love this kind of weather. Perfect day to eat a hearty meal. And some really good pie.