Learning about food, photography, and writing. Sharing what I find.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving for Two: Two Traditions, One Meal, Right Taste, Wrong Continent

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And it's only 85% to do with its food-centered-ness.

No but seriously, Thanksgiving has always been something really and truly special in my family. Maybe it's because it was the one holiday during the year that brought both sides of my family together, completely, for the whole day; Maybe it's because, for 25 years, I never celebrated it in a house built less than 200 years ago; Maybe it's because on Thanksgiving day, however chaotic, my parents (and later we daughters) steadfastly put out platters of food that smelled, tasted and looked exactly right, a yearly reminder of the comfort and reassurance of tradition. Okay, okay, so my Turkey Day love is 50/50: Family and Food.

In my family, to be honest, those two things have always been inextricable.

So, when there was no way in God's Green Earth that Penn and I could get home for Thanksgiving this year (from our now-home in London), I went slightly insane to the supermarket (and the farmer's market and back to the supermarket and to the corner store twice and— well, you know how it goes). In only four days, I would gather and prepare us a proper Thanksgiving Feast for Two . . . in the UK . . . while working full-time. This meant gathering recipes along with ingredients and taking my first whack at roasting a bird weighing more than three pounds. I knew I could handle all the dinner stuff.

Cornbread Stuffing with Leeks, Sage, Celery and Wild Boar & Apple Sausage

Anything that calls for 'dotting the top with remaining butter' is fine by me. This recipe is an adaptation of the one found here.

Green Bean Casserole with Deep Fried Leek Rings

It took all my strength not to eat all these before topping the casserole. Someday I'll share the recipe for this gorgeous fried exterior. It's good on everything.

Baked Sweet Potato and Apple with a Sherry, Brown Sugar, Sage and Butter Glaze

Dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg, of course.

Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Very Little Frills

Only a wee bit of lemon rind and sugar in the pot with the cranberries.

Oh, and The Turkey, of course.

The packaging read: "Feeds 8 minimum." Hahahhaahaaaaa Joke's on you because I just ate the last turkey sandwich from this sucker.**

Believe it or not, in the middle of it all, it was the Pumpkin Pie that scared me. All I know is that our family's famous recipe is critically-acclaimed and wildly temperamental (kinda like me!). But, it's not Thanksgiving without Pumpkin Pie. "I shall do my family proud!" I decreed.

To prepare you for the big recipe reveal to follow, you'll need a bit of history on this food-family of mine. I often forget it, but my crazy passion for food comes from a loooong line of other crazies. :) The story most relevant to my Thanksgiving endeavor is that of my grandparents' history in the food business.

Mamen and Pop-Pop weren't always called that. Margaret 'Sis' Mendillo and John 'Jack' Menzies met as toddlers. They grew up as neighbors, fought like siblings, fell in love, parted ways, endured wars, reunited, got married, and never stopped adventuring. If I really think about it, their newly-wedded years were pretty awesome. They spent years (pre-Southwest-Airlines years, mind you!) going up and down the East Coast working 'seasons' in Florida, Vermont and The Cape. My Grandfather was a cook and my Grandmother was a hostess (though she cooked up a storm in her own kitchen for sure). They served and rubbed elbows with the rich and famous of their time at some of the top destinations for people of that status.

The place we all heard about the most growing up was 'Lathams', one of the finest restaurants and inns ever on Cape Cod. (If this old postcard is to be believed, the place was subtitled, An Inn of Distinction.) My newly-wedded grandparents worked several seasons there and there's a story for almost every day. Many of those stories involve the owner of Latham's, Pa Latham, as he was called. He was the mastermind behind this '40s-era hot-spot and the culinary genius who kept big-wigs coming back year after year. I'd bet it was Pa Latham who taught my grandfather to carve a roast like a pro, and my grandmother to host dinners fit for royalty (though I know Pop-Pop's upper-class upbringing taught them both a thing or two about polished silver and cloth napkins). One thing we can confirm as a "Pa Latham Legacy" to my grandparents is his Pumpkin Pie recipe.

Pa Latham taught Pop-Pop, Pop-Pop taught my dad, and the extended family has enjoyed it on the last Thursday in November for decades. No one else in history has ever tried to replicate it until THIS YEAR. No pressure. (The pressure was slightly abated by the fact that my co-UK sister was also trying it for the first time up in Scotland. Phew.)

With 70 years of legacy on my shoulders, and a very hungry husband, I embarked on the great adventure to replicate Pa Latham's Pumpkin Pie.

And I did. Wanna know how to achieve the magic? Read on...

Simple ingredients, careful prep, precise doneness. That's it.

Can be made 1 day ahead and sometimes even tastes better the next day.

The 'Big Two' for pumpkin pie. It's really a miracle that I found them so easily in London. <3 Waitrose in West Hampstead. And doesn't this picture look positively vintage? I love the packaging for both.

All Ingredients for the Pie Filling:

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup pumpkin puree (we use good quality, natural canned puree. Fresh would probably work, but I make no promises. :)
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp molasses
2 eggs (*very lightly beaten. See The Process below for more details...)

Crust Ingredients:

Your favorite pie crust (Pie crust is yours to determine. I've said it before, I've found some great pre-made crusts and I use them happily. But, if you've got a tried and true recipe and patience that I clearly don't have, please use it in this recipe!)

Garnish Ingredients (my addition to the recipe):
1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
3 Tbsp Honey

The Process:

Combine your sugar, spices and salt in a medium bowl with a whisk.
Add the pumpkin puree and molasses. Whisk gently but thoroughly.
Add the evaporated milk and 'top milk' as my grandmother apparently calls it. It just means regular milk. Stir well and let stand for 1 hour or longer.
This is when you can line your 9-inch pie plate with your pie crust, make a pretty scalloped edge, mess around with the extra pie dough and preheat your oven to 450ยบ. I made a cinnamon-sugar pumpkin with my crust scraps.

 Here it is unbaked with another little cinnamon/sugar twist in the back. That's allspice on the stem making it a bit darker.

Here it is baked and golden. I baked it separately, then plopped it on top of the cooled pie.

After the allotted time has passed, beat your two eggs in a separate small bowl for about 15 seconds or until the yolks are broken and there are no majorly large bits of the whites left. The yolks should not be fully incorporated into the whites. This is to ensure you get the sheen/glaze on the top of the pie instead of a foamy, bubbly top.

Add the eggs into the pumpkin mixture and mix gently but thoroughly again.

Finally, they're ready for each other!

Pour all of it right away into your unbaked pie shell.

Bake it in the center of the oven for ABOUT 30 minutes. But, start checking it at 20, then 25, then 30, then 35, etc. until the center is wobbly but not soupy. It'll puff up about 1 inch around the edges. One description I read said, "A toothpick will come out with a few bits on it when stuck in 1 inch from the edge." So, you're really just getting the pie to a place where it has set, but some of the last cooking happens on the cooling rack. Please, please don't overcook it. A couple small cracks in the top are normal and the crust will get to a dark golden. If you're worried about burning . . . my dad has, too, for 20 years and he has no solution for you but to catch it just at the right time. :)

See that lovely glisten?

Cool the pie on a rack until completely cooled.
Add your goofy embellishments that are probably making Pa Latham roll over in his grave.

For a garnish we did Honey Whipped Cream. Just whip the heavy cream and honey to stiff peaks. Plop it on and dust with cinnamon!

I'm pretty proud to carry on this tradition. Love you, Dad & Pop-Pop. And, thanks Pa Latham.

**I forgot to take a picture of the mashed potatoes. But, you've seen 'em. Though I will say that they were SUPER yummy. Trick is letting the potatoes steam when they're out of the *salted* water and adding lots of butter and just the right amount of cream. Mmmmmmm


  1. DEEEE-layshus!! ...and that's just eating with my eyes. I have to say, there's not many things better in life than "just plopping whipped cream." One thing I would love to see (and it would incorporate some scurrying around and rummaging through some old trunks and albums by your mom and dad... not to mention scanning and emailing) are photos of Mamen and Pop-pop during those Wonder Years. Oh, yes I would!

  2. There are photos from the Wonder Years! There's one in particular where a reporter came across M&P in Vermont and, thinking they were a fine-looking couple, asked them to pose for a picture as if they were 'on holiday on the slopes'. It is a gorgeous picture of them in borrowed snow gear, holding skis. According to my dad, there's little to no evidence of their time at Latham's because they 'weren't thinking about the future then'. We'll see what we can scrounge up!

  3. what a lovely photos these are! after watching these photos, it makes me hungry..now i would like to eat such delicious foods...chicken fry yummy yummy!

  4. wow! thanks for sharing the useful article. I like most the pie filling . I follow your process to make this food in my house yesterday.My family members praises for this delicious food.Thanks once again. And you have good eyes.Because your food pictures looking really wonderful.It seems that i can't wait anymore to taste this food.