The Great Pie Tasting Adventure

I think I’m supposed to write about all the things I’m thankful for today, but I try to be thankful for things every day, as cheesy as that sounds, so I think I’m going to tell you a story instead.

My father and I have a long standing tradition of making a big Thanksgiving meal and feeding pretty much whoever shows up. Each year we’d have a different theme; at Greek Thanksgiving, I remember roast lamb, dolmades, and avgolemono soup, among other things. For Japanese Thanskgiving, we had sushi, miso soup, and tempura. We would haul our table out into the middle of the downstairs room at the Tin Palace, and we would cram the Czechoslovakian folding chairs in every which way, and inevitably a few people would end up sitting on the stairs because they couldn’t fit at the table.

All sorts of food would be spread out, ours and food brought by guests, and a lot of wine would be drunk, and jazz would be on the record player. We usually started eating around three or so, and the last guest would straggle out at 10.

One year, I had just learned to make pie crust, and we were making a traditional sort of Thanksgiving with turkey and mashed potatoes and all that goes with it. Now, I don’t like to brag, but I happen to think that I make a rather good pie crust. And most people seem to agree. Even in the early stages, I could deliver a deliciously flaky crust, and I was working on the crust while my father made pumpkin pie filling when one of his girlfriends dropped by.

Somehow, the conversation came around to pie, and she revealed that she was also making pumpkin pie, but she was using storebought crust.

Long-term readers and close friends can probably imagine what my reaction to this news was, as I was a food Nazi from a very young age. I delivered my scathing opinion of the situation while she blustered excuses, and my father ultimately soothed ruffled feathers by declaring that we would use the scientific method to determine whether or not people could tell the difference between home-made and storebought, and which one people preferred.

Ever a fan of the scientific method, I argued that in order to be truly effective, the filling would have to be the same, so that the tasters wouldn’t be distracted by filling differences. I also secretly believed that my father’s filling would be superior to anything that someone who uses storebought crust would make, and it might give me an unfair advantage. While I like winning, I don’t like cheating.

Furthermore, I said, we would need to hold a blind taste test to ensure that people didn’t respond to the visible differences between the crusts.

The girlfriend agreed to the terms, and she departed to let us finish, taking a tupperware container full of pie filling with her. She returned shortly before dinner, and the pies were carefully stashed on top of the fridge to await the pie-off.

As I recall, we had a lot of people and a lot of desserts that year. In addition to the dad, the girlfriend, and myself, we had my godfather, an assortment of woodworking students, my doctor and her husband, a few lawyer friends, and a handful of other orphans. All told, I think there were probably 20-25 people, and in addition to the pies of contention, the doctor had brought pecan pie while her husband made lemon meringue, the woodworking students contributed a huge batch of cookies, my godfather brought chocolates, and there was a mysterious coconut cream pie that no one would claim the credit for.

Over the course of dinner, my father explained the terms of the pie competition, and everyone agreed to participate except for a lone spoilsport woodworking student who said that he didn’t like pumpkin pie. This turned out to be convenient, as we could nominate him for the position of test administrator.

After dinner was cleared, the guests submitted to blindfolding while the woodworking student sliced up the pies and distributed them.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someone eating pie while wearing a blindfold, but imagine it would be pretty amusing. Everyone was supposed to take a taste of each pie and then leave their fork on the pie of their preference before taking the blindfolds off, and most people had to enlist the woodworking student for help as they blindly stabbed the table or each other.

Once all the blindfolds came off, the table looked like a battlefield, with chunks of pumpkin pie everywhere and forks perched haphazardly on plates. The woodworking student identified the two pies, and the clear winner, as I recall, was the homemade, with a few people plumping for storebought. I spent the rest of the evening victorious and gorging on the lemon meringue, and I was pleased to note that all of the home-made pie was gone at the end of the night, while the storebought remained largely uneaten except for the small pieces we had cut for the pie tasting.

I was content with my pie victory for several weeks, until the girlfriend admitted that she had made her own filling from canned pumpkin, which rather soured the whole affair for me. As I had feared, my father’s obviously superior filling clearly tipped the balance, and despite my cries for a re-trial, the blind pie tasting was never repeated.

Someday. Some day.