Just for fun, this weekend I'll be posting a few excerpts from A Year of Biblical Womanhood that relate to the holidays. I hope yours are joyous!
- from "November: Domesticity"
"It's safe to say that every cook will be called upon to roast a turkey
at some point in his or her life."
- Martha Stewart
I suppose it’s not a good sign when your copy of Good Housekeeping is stuck to the bathroom floor, covered in hair, toenail clippings, and dust bunnies, but by mid November I’d gotten so good at cooking I figured God and Martha would cut me some slack on the cleaning front.
Since completing the beef stew, I’d moved on to desserts, popping chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake, and crème brûlée out of the oven like I was born with oven mitts on my hands. Unfortunately, my dessert domination came to a fateful end the night before Thanksgiving when I attempted Martha Stewart’s double-crusted apple pie. It had already been an intense week, what with a twenty-four-pound turkey to thaw, groceries to buy, centerpieces to assemble, and an apparently monumental decision to make about whether or not to brine. (I’d reveal my final verdict, but it appears this would turn 50 percent of the population against me.)
Now with less than eight hours before my alarm was set to go off the next morning, I found myself on the kitchen floor, crying and cursing and shaking flecks of pâte brisée (French for “pie crust”) out of my hair. (Going into this project, I was determined to avoid the whole crumple-to-the-kitchenfloor-in-a-heap-of-sobs bit, as it’s getting a tad cliché, don’t you think? So I feel it’s important to note that I didn’t crumple to the kitchen floor in a heap of sobs; I just happened to be sitting on the kitchen floor when I started to cry.)
The evening had gone so well up to that point. My friend Carrie, who would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner, let me borrow her apple peeler—an industrious little contraption that made me feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder as I cranked the iron lever to neatly core, cut, and peel ten Granny Smiths, their cool juices spraying all over my arms like sawdust from a circular. The peels came out in sweet-smelling coils that I munched on as I read Martha’s instructions for preparing the pâte brisée.
“Perhaps because of the risk of overworking,” says Martha, “and turning out something that tears in two or tastes more leaden than light, many home cooks shy away from homemade dough, opting instead for unfold-as-you-go boxed crusts.”
“But making perfect pie dough from scratch should be part of any home cook’s basic skills. And the best dough for homemade pies is pâte brisée . . . Getting the right proportion of butter to flour is crucial, as is using very cold ingredients and a light hand.”
Bring it, Martha.
I confess that part of my motivation for tackling homemade apple pie the night before Thanksgiving dinner was the fact that my mother had advised against it.
“At least use a frozen pie crust,” she said. “Why put all this extra stress on yourself?”
But I’d grown overconfident, so the fact that I’d never in my life used a pastry blender or a rolling pin didn’t stop me from going right ahead and whisking together some flour, sugar, and salt, cutting in two sticks of butter, adding some water, and then kneading it all together to form two disks that looked exactly like the picture on page 438, thank you very much. Then I wrapped my pâte brisée in plastic and put it in the refrigerator while I combined my (slightly browning) apples with sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. A taste test proved I was on the right track.
“Assemble the pie,” commanded the directions.
I dusted the counter with flour, placed the first pâte brisée on the surface, took out my rolling pin, and began my slow break from sanity.
To this day I am convinced that rendering that lump of dough into a crust that is precisely one-eighth of an inch thick and thirteen inches in diameter would require Douglas Adams–style rematerialization.
I did everything the book told me to do. I rolled the dough from the center out to the edges. I turned it as I went along. I tried using parchment paper. But after thirty minutes of excruciating tedium, I decided that eleven inches in diameter would have to do. I unrolled the paper-thin dough into the pie pan, where it barely peeked over the edges, filled it with the apple mixture, wrestled again with the second round of pâte brisée, and then finally draped the “lid” over the filling.
“Use kitchen shears to trim overhang of both crusts to 1-inch,” said Martha.
Well, I can safely skip that step.
“Press edges to seal.”
“Fold overhang under, and crimp edges: With thumb and index finger of one hand, gently press dough against index finger of other hand. Continue around pie.”
This proved challenging given the amount of crust I had to work worth, but by the time I finished, it didn’t look half-bad, almost like Martha’s picture, in fact.
And then I realized I’d forgotten to add the butter to the filling.
I immediately got on my phone to tweet about the predicament and solicit advice. Of the dozen or so friends who were online at 9 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving—most of them men—three suggested that I cut the butter into little slivers and stick it through the air slits, which turned out to be a good idea except that my air slits ended up looking more like giant gashes through which butter was bleeding out of my pie.
“Whisk egg yolk and cream in a bowl; brush over top crust,” instructed Martha. “If desired, use cutters to cut chilled scraps into leaves or other shapes; adhere to top of crust with egg wash. This is a good way to hide imperfections.”
“Sprinkle with sanding sugar.”
Sanding sugar, I could only assume, was powdered sugar finely sieved. So I decided to try out a little trick I saw in Martha Stewart Living—a “good thing” as she likes to call it. I took my half-gallon canister of powdered sugar, covered the opening with cheesecloth, held it over the pie, and shook.
Almost instantly the cheesecloth fell through, releasing an avalanche of powdered sugar onto my butter-bleeding pie.
This is when I decided to sit down for a while.
Dan had the good sense to be at a friend’s house, playing Halo that night, so I wallowed alone in self-pity for a while before rousing myself to take a picture of the sugar-doused pie with my phone, tweet about the fiasco, and soak in the sympathy of my readers. Further inspection revealed that just one side of the pie caught the brunt of the disaster, so I began shoveling, first with a measuring cup, then with a spoon, and finally with a butter knife. When I finished, a thin layer of sugar remained, which promptly burned in the oven. Five hours before I was to put a twenty-four-pound turkey in, I pulled a charred, lacerated, butter-bleeding shadow of a pie out.
Icarus had flown too close to the sun.
That night I dreamed about giblets and gravy, and as often happens when I’m so rudely confronted with my perceived inadequacies as a woman, babies. At some point Dan came home and asked if something was burning.
At 5:30 a.m. the alarm sounded, and I lumbered back into the dark kitchen to make some coffee and turn to page 149 of Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, where the recipe for “Perfect Roast Turkey” slowly sharpened into focus
I’d been warned about a million times to remember to take out the giblets, so I heaved the bird out of the refrigerator, placed it on top of a bed of paper towels to sop up all the nasty pink juices, pulled on some rubber gloves, and reluctantly began my day with my hand in a turkey’s orifice. Talk about getting intimate with your meat.
Just as expected, I found the plastic bag of giblets nestled inside the chest cavity, but there was something else rattling around in there I wasn’t so sure about, some kind of bone. The package instructions seem to suggest it was the poor gal’s neck, but I called the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line just to be sure.
The Turkey Talk-Line was busy, probably because 6:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning is about the time most of us first-timers realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into. Fortunately, the menu included on option to listen to Betty or somebody talk about how to prepare a turkey, and I distinctly heard her say to remove the giblets and neck. So I pulled out the neck, ignored Martha’s instructions to reserve the offal for gravy, and threw it with the giblets into the garbage. (We Southern girls make our gravy out of grease, not body parts.) I prepared my basting liquid, seasoned the cavity, lathered the bird in butter, and placed it in the roasting pan.
But something didn’t look right. The poor thing appeared to be attempting flight.
I read back through Martha’s instructions to see “fold wing tips under.”
This proved to be the hardest part of the whole process because apparently I’m so weak I can’t even arm wrestle a dead turkey, but also because the rest of the day went . . . well . . . perfectly.
My parents came over, along with our pastor, Brian; his wife, Carrie; and their two young daughters, Avery and Adi. Carrie brought a pumpkin pie and banana pudding, so we didn’t have to eat my butter-bleeding apple pie. The table looked beautiful, all the food came out on time, the turkey was tender and juicy, and the conversation was fantastic.
Everything went so perfectly I started to annoy myself. How am I supposed to get any writing material out of this?
Or maybe it was my definition of “perfect” that had changed.
Somewhere between the chicken soup and the butter-bleeding pie, I’d made peace with the God of pots and pans—not because God wanted to meet me in the kitchen, but because God wanted to meet me everywhere, in all things, big or small. Knowing that God both inhabits and transcends our daily vocations, no matter how glorious or mundane, should be enough to unite all women of faith and end that nasty cycle of judgment we get caught in these days.
Mom and Carrie helped me with the dishes. Brian volunteered to pick apart the carcass. Avery and Adi learned to play “Living on the Edge” on Guitar Hero with Dan and Dad.
Finally, after the company was gone, the dishes done, and the leftovers distributed, I sank into the living room couch with a glass of rosé and offered up a silent toast—to Mary, Martha, and me.
From A Year of Biblical Womanhood ©2012 by Rachel Held Evans; published by Thomas Nelson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.