Helping with the Thanksgiving Meal Makes Big Impressions on Little Kids
By Larissa Phillips
Thanksgiving dinner is a tough one for families with young children. It's like this terrible obstacle course. Never is a small child expected to sit at the table for so long, eat so many new foods, all the while posing for pictures meant to go down for the ages. It's like one of those survival reality shows. Add travel fatigue, strange relatives, mildly stressed parents, flash bulbs popping and the race is on.
After the first few years of expecting my young son to contribute to the joy of the Thanksgiving meal (and being mightily disappointed), it was a huge relief the year a friend suggested we let our crew of 4-year-old boys take their plates of turkey into the other room to watch a video. What a concept! It was the most peaceful Thanksgiving meal I'd had since … well, becoming a parent.
But it's a slippery slope. I have a lurking fear of my children ending up like a cousin of mine, who even as a teenager would eat a hotdog at Thanksgiving and be excused almost immediately to go play video games. As the mother of one of the pickiest eaters on the planet, I know how easy it would be to go down that road. I'm armed and shielded, ready for battle.
One of my major weapons? Pie. Oh sure, there are other tactics, little ways to get children invested in the Thanksgiving meal, like mashing potatoes, checking on the turkey ("Did the popper pop yet?"), hunting for leaves and pinecones to decorate the table. But homemade pie is the secret weapon, the powerful charm in my bag of holiday tricks.
There is something magical about pie. Warm and happy emotions, even "oohs" and "aahs," greet pie wherever it goes. It is quite possibly the most wholesome and loving of desserts. What other dessert can you eat for breakfast without feeling like a crazy person?
It is also, fortunately, not difficult to make, and much of the process is suited to children. Even 2- and 3-year-olds love to press the pulse button on the food processor, and the small, more precise fingers of a 4-year-old are perfect for molding the fluted edge of a piecrust. Plus, there is egg wash to be painted on, vents to be slashed, and sugar to be measured.
If taking on the challenge of pie-making seems like the last thing a busy parent needs to deal with, just remember these magic words: the freezer. Uncooked pie crusts can be frozen earlier in the month. Think of it as a mid-November craft project, with lasting appeal - maybe just as memorable as all those holiday family photos.
This Month's Feature Recipes
Single-Crust Pie Dough
The secret to a good piecrust is to have everything very, very cold. Some people even leave the flour and the mixer bowl in the freezer for a few hours. The colder everything is, the flakier and lighter the piecrust will be. Healthy substitution: Substitute 1/4 cup of whole-wheat flour and 1/4 cup of rolled oats, oat bran or even wheat germ for 1/2 cup of the white flour.
- 1.5 cups flour
- 6 Tbs. unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
- 1 Tbs. sugar
- 6 - 8 Tbs. ice cold water
- Put the flour, salt and sugar into the food processor, and process for a few seconds (longer if using whole grain substitutions).
- Cut the butter into pieces and add to the flour mixture. Process for about 30 seconds, until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
- Add the water, a tablespoon at a time.
- Blend on pulse setting until the dough looks like it can be formed into a ball. Remove the dough and shape it into a ball, kneading it slightly to evenly distribute the fat. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
- Flatten the chilled dough into a disk, then use a rolling pin, rolling out from center, to make a 14-inch circle. Gently fold the dough over the rolling pin and place it into a 9-inch pie pan. The dough should hang over the edge of the pan; use your fingers to attach the dough entirely around the lip of the pan to prevent the dough from shrinking and slipping down during baking. Once secure, use your fingertips to mold and pinch the dough at the rim into a pattern. After the first go-round, moisten fingers and repeat the pattern to smooth out the design. For a golden crust, brush with egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water.
This easiest, most humble of pies has so many variations it could make your head spin. Here's a simple version. Note: Pumpkin pie does not take to freezing, but piecrust does. Just pour this pumpkin pie recipe into a frozen pie crust and bake as usual.
- 1 15-oz. can of pureed pumpkin
- 2 eggs
- 12-oz. can of evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 partially baked single-crust pie shell
- Prebake the piecrust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line piecrust with foil and pie weights or enough rice or beans to cover foil. Bake 10 minutes. Remove foil and weights, and bake for another 6 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Beat eggs in a small bowl.
- Combine sugars and spices in another bowl.
- Stir sugar-spice mixture, eggs and pumpkin puree in a large bowl.
- Stir in milk. Mix gently with a wooden spoon until smooth and evenly mixed.
- Pour into piecrust. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake 40 to 50 minutes longer, until pie is set. Let cool completely.
These pastry apples are delightful to make, especially with a group of children; they all love to make their own.
- 2 batches pie dough
- 3 Tbs. butter, softened
- 3 Tbs. brown sugar
- 2 Tbs. chopped walnuts
- 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 6 small tart apples, like Granny Smith
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- Whole cloves
- 1 egg yolk
- In a small bowl, combine butter, sugar, nuts and cinnamon. Blend with a fork.
- Core apples and brush with lemon juice to keep them from browning. Using a spoon, fill hollows with the sugar-nut mixture.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a shallow baking pan.
- On a floured surface, divide pastry evenly into six pieces.
- Form each piece into a ball. Flatten, then roll out into an 8-inch square. Save trimmings. Place an apple in the center of each square; brush edges lightly with water.
- Bring each corner of the square to the top of the apple, pinching the edges of the pastry together firmly to cover the apple completely and tightly. It should look like an apple made of pastry.
- Re-roll the dough trimmings and use a knife to cut out leaves. Score the leaves lightly with a knife to make leaf veins. (Children may prefer to make their initials or other designs.) Brush one end of each leaf lightly with water and press on top of the dumpling; put the clove in the center.
- Mix the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water. Arrange the apples in the pan, and brush with the egg yolk mixture.
- Bake for about 40 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the apples are tender when tested with a wooden pick.
- Use leftover dough to make Pie Snakes: roll out dough in skinny snakes and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until just browning. Eat as soon as they are cool enough to handle!