Thanksgiving is a big deal in the Pollack family, and it was that way long before I arrived in it. My dear late mother-in-law followed her family’s tradition; as Russian emigres, I’m sure they were particularly thankful that America had been so good to them.
It’s often described as a very American holiday. It’s not a particularly American concept; Hannah, the afore-mentioned mother-in-law and a serious student of history and cultures, often pointed out that the harvest festival is a particularly ancient one. But unlike many of our other holidays, it requires no religious or political affinity to observe it. It’s for everyone.
I can do a whole chapter on how fascinating I think Thanksgiving menus are, or even just dressing is (I fall into the "dressing" camp, rather than "stuffing," not from philosophy but from habit.) It’s a great place to look at how recipes and menus evolve, too, as people find new variations on traditional themes.
A couple of years ago, I found this recipe from New York pastry chef Pichet Ong, in the New York Times as part of a pie made with kabocha squash. The pie filling was nice enough, but the crust and the dreamy sauce that went with it immediately went to the top of the list as Keepers. I use the crust now with my mother’s pumpkin pie recipe. (Libby’s standard recipe, one extra egg, 1 can low-fat condensed milk, maybe brandy or bourbon along with the vanilla.) And the sauce, luxurious and indulgent, is the sort of thing that people stand in front of the refrigerator dipping into at 4 in the morning. (Think about it over ice cream or fresh fruit, too.)
Crust for Pumpkin (or another) Pie
3/4 c. (2 oz.) English walnuts
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (about 7 crackers)
grated zest of 1 lime
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted.
In a food processor, combine walnuts with a few tablespoons of the brown sugar. Pulse a few times, until nuts are coarsely ground. In a large bowl, mix nuts with graham cracker crumbs, remaining brown sugar, lime zest, spices and salt. Pour melted butter over this. Mix with your fingers to distribute butter. Press evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. (With all the brown ingredients, it’s hard to tell; trust your nose and the clock and watch the edges.)
The crust is ready to have the filling poured into it and the pie baked as usual. May be done beforehand.
Ginger Butterscotch Sauce
1 lb. dark brown sugar
2 1/2 oz. (about 4 inches) fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into coin-sized discs
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped
10 Tbs. (5 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
2 c. heavy cream
3/4 tsp. salt
Put sugar, ginger, vanilla pod and its pulp into a heavy pot set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is molten and fragrant with the ginger and vanilla. This takes about 8-10 minutes, and the sugar won’t melt entirely. The mixture will be somewhat crumbly. Add the butter, and stand back, because the mixture will foam up. Stir until butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Pour the cream and the salt into the pot, stirring, and bring to a simmer. Let sauce bubble until thickened, about another 8 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes and fish out the vanilla pod and the ginger.
Warm gently before serving. Keeps about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Makes 3 ½ cups.