Thanksgiving Pie Making: Two Childhood Memories

Thanksgiving is this week; my holiday for baking pies.

I’ve baked Thanksgiving pies annually for decades, since I was twelve years old, when I was interested as hell in cooking, and particularly baking.   89C1E4FF-309B-42D5-848B-73F563B79D2E

My mother’s Aunt Jean, a childless spinster, was the baker in our extended family. From the time I was a toddler, she sat me at her kitchen table while she baked Thanksgiving pies. Once the pastry lined the pie pans, she gave me the leftover trimmings to roll and cut into cookies with a set of tiny baker’s tools she’d bought for me. 

She would place my humble twists, bells, and stars on a cookie sheet, sprinkle them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, before popping them into the oven next to her pies until they turned golden brown. We’d eat them at the same kitchen table together. They were delicious. 

Aunt Jean died when I was seven years old. It was my first experience of death and grief. I cried every day for a week.

After she died, my mother took on the job of baking the Thanksgiving pies for our family. She’s a very good cook, but pies are different. Making pie crust intimidates many cooks and bakers, experienced or not. 

Besides raising three children, my mother worked full-time outside of the home. The day before Thanksgiving she came home from a full day’s work, fixed her family dinner, and baked the pies to lessen her work load the following day.

We always had pumpkin and apple pie for Thanksgiving.

When I was old enough to read and handle a knife, I was promoted to making the pie fillings. I sat next to her at our kitchen table, with a large Pyrex mixing bowl in front of me. Mom had another bowl, and Aunt Jean’s recipe book in front of her. 

Each year it was the same routine: I made the pumpkin pie filling following the recipe on the back of a can of Libby’s pumpkin. Then I sliced, peeled and cored the apples, adding sugar, cinnamon, butter, and little bit of flour.

The recipe made two pumpkin pies, which required two single pie crust shells. Two more shells were needed for the double-crust apple pie: Two batches of pie crust.

The year I was twelve, Something Happened.

I made the bowl of pumpkin filling, and sliced the apples. I waited patiently as my mother struggled to make pie crust after working all day, and fixing dinner. 

In frustration, she threw away a second batch of wet, sticky dough, put the bowl and recipe book in front of me, and said, “Here, you do it!”

Was it confidence, the ignorance of youth, or simply realizing that if I didn’t do it, it was unlikely we’d have pies for Thanksgiving? 

I was field-promoted to head baker.* I rose to the challenge. What did I have to lose? Making pie crust was hard for adults, no one expected a child to be able to do it.

I successfully made pie crust on my first attempt. I rolled it out, lined the pie dishes, filling one with sliced apples, then covering it with a second layer of crust. Into the other pie shells I poured the pumpkin mixture. My mother put the pumpkin pies into the oven to bake first.

Served the next day after Thanksgiving dinner, my pies were perfect. From that year on, I baked our holiday pies, pumpkin and apple.

Over the years, I’ve strayed from the recipes in Aunt Jean’s book, or on the can of Libby’s pumpkin, trying many different pumpkin and apple pie recipes. Sometimes I make a crumb-crust topped apple pie, sometimes I make a rich custard filling for the pumpkin pies. 

When I bake pies at Thanksgiving, I look back fondly on these memories. I wonder if my pie crust baking skill is the result of my fingers learning the right consistency of the dough by playing with the scraps Aunt Jean gave me to make cookies with, so many years ago? I think of her often, especially at Thanksgiving. I also think of the love of my mother, who worked so hard to prepare traditional Thanksgiving meals for her family.

This Thanksgiving, I continue my annual tradition of baking pies, grateful for the love of these women, and my memories.

*In nursing, we called this the ‘see one, do one, teach one’ method.


  1. I have some of those same memories only with my German grandma. I remember how the crusts were not perfect looking but tasted amazing and how proud my sister and I were of our treats from the leftover crusts. Thanks for taking me back…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julianna
    You are a delight! I love your artwork! Have you done any pieces portraying oncology nurses in their many roles?


    1. Debi, thank you for your lovely words 🥰 Yes, years ago I wrote and illustrated weekly posts for TheONC: A Gated Community of Online Oncology Nurses. And of course, there’s the illustrated posts I’ve contributed for many years to Off The Charts, the American Journal of Nursing.


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