Our Thanksgiving op-eds have been coated in butter and dunked in a barrel of boiling oil. Now our house is on fire. But nothing, nothing will convince us otherwise. So pass the alcoholic gravy — here are our deep-fried holiday takes.
For a long while, my hatred of pie was a secret. I knew there was something abnormal in it. The rest of my ridiculously large extended family looked forward to Thanksgiving pies even more than the turkey, potatoes and stuffing; I have memories of a dining room buffet table lined with no fewer than half a dozen kinds, though apple and pumpkin were the traditional favorites.
As my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins helped themselves to hefty slices, I made mumbling excuses about not wanting any, and nibbled instead on stray cookies or chocolates. I suppose, at the beginning, this aversion to pie squared with an anxiety of gluttony. I ate fast, but I hated being too full, and by the end of a holiday meal, I could not stomach something so rich and dense. Later, my pickiness had more to do with texture and flavor: I liked fruit well enough, and pastry was delicious, but hot fruit inside pastry I found revolting, an abominable pairing.
Then, finally, I internalized some kind of faux-masculine antipathy for any dessert. I’m sure you know guys who claim they’re “not into” the post-dinner course, as if admitting to a sweet tooth would suggest a girly nature, what with all the decorative elements to pies and cakes, and the feminine associations of baking itself. While mountains of meat and starch were necessary after a rousing game of touch football in the front yard, dessert remained a frilly indulgence, something you savored while lightly complaining that it always went straight to your thighs.
Only now, at age 35, can I take stock of seasons past and wonder: What was my problem?
Here’s the thing. Sometimes we mistake our specific dislikes — and I mean everything from food to art to people to politics — for elements of a persona. The more I resisted pie, the more convinced I became that this refusal signaled my identity, or at least its culinary edges. And the louder I got about it. Eventually, I stood out as the freak who could not be persuaded to even try a bite of pie that others swore would change my life. My longest romantic relationship was with a pie-hater; we scorned the oozing, flaky dishes together, repulsed by the fanfare and craving for them. Why ruin perfectly nice cherries or peaches by turning them into a mushy filling? The very idea felt unserious, completely without merit. Society had fallen prey to a false pleasure.
By making my dismissal of pie categorical, I also rendered it theoretical. I had no real appreciation for the wide-ranging variation among pies, let alone what’s actually in, say, a pumpkin pie. (I looked it up a second ago, and admit I had to close the page when I read the word “custard,” which caused a visceral reaction.) So it was out of ignorance that I brushed aside my girlfriend Maddie’s insistence that, while I might detest nine out of 10 pies, I perpetually denied myself the one that could satisfy my impossible palate. I kept up my skepticism until she almost literally force-fed me a forkful of pecan pie. The flavor clicked. Nuts, eggs, butter and sugar in a simple, cozy harmony. The ingredients bound by a chewy, melty layer of maple goodness. Was I really going in for another bite, of my own free will? Holy shit.
Pecan as the gateway drug, I soon afterward embarked on further pie adventures. Blackberry, an ideal blend of sweet and tart. Lemon meringue, gloriously light and fluffy. Not long ago, Maddie got on a kick of baking strawberry galettes — wow, just wow. I even scarfed down a huge, gooey serving of peach pie this summer, barely recalling my former bafflement at the delicacy. There’s no denying it: I’m pie-curious now. I still don’t like all of it — not by a long shot — but neither am I living in denial of pie’s potential. A few have been outstanding, heavenly.
In retrospect, I should have understood that as my taste for green vegetables, complex cheeses, oysters and olives needed years to develop, so too did my sensitivity to the nuances of the many forms of pie. Long ago, they were all the same nasty confection, served with an apologetic scoop of ice cream since it brought nothing to the table. Well, a grown adult can admit when they were wrong, and obnoxiously stubborn about it: There is a whole universe of pie, and it’s worth exploring as much as you can. This Thanksgiving should be a quiet one — Maddie and I cooking a little feast for ourselves — and I wouldn’t be surprised if we threw a pie on the menu. Would the younger Miles recognize this man? Not a chance. But give it time.
Oh, and one of my signature Sunday night dinners now? Chicken pot pie. I think it counts.