04 November 2011

Just Dessert

Bags of Cranberries; Photo T. Vincent

Article by Maya Miranda

I have always hated pumpkin pie. With its mottled orange-brown color and sludge-like texture, I have never understood why people love it so much. I remember in my youth when pumpkin pie was only served once, maybe twice per year, at cold-weather family holidays. Now it’s everywhere – pumpkin lattes, pumpkin loaf – even pumpkin bisque at a restaurant the other day.  The attraction remains elusive to me; I like pumpkins for carving jack-o-lanterns at Halloween and the seeds in my granola, but that’s about it.

A couple of Thanksgivings ago, my boyfriend at the time invited me to share the holiday at his mom’s house. This would be our first meeting and needless to say I was freaked.  He was a good ole’ boy, an all American farmer who loved to eat beef, drink cheap beer and of course this man loved pumpkin pie more than anyone I’ve ever known.  I, on the other hand, was quite different. A half Jewish flower child, covered in tattoos with a penchant for cursing like a sailor –what would they think of me when they found out I also didn’t like pumpkin pie? Would I be judged and cast out of their home?

As a recovering vegetarian, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about Thanksgiving for years.  I finally started eating turkey a couple of years ago (usually a few bites just for show) but I flat out refuse to eat the slimy orange mess that crazy people call desert.  I knew I needed a game plan, something to detract from my anti-American-pumpkin-hating-dysfunction and win over my presumably judgmental dinner companions. The answer was clear to me, I must bake a pie – the best possible pumpkinless pie – something so delicious that no one would even notice the ever-dominating desert-from-a-can.

Despite my hatred for pumpkins, in general, I love food, love cooking and prefer to prepare meals which honor the region I live in and its present growing season. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier and it’s better overall for the community when ingredients can be found locally or regionally. I am very grateful to be living in the state of Oregon, we have an abundance of fresh, local foods to choose from and even in the chilly month of November there are still little gems growing in abundance.  After consulting my collection of cookbooks, I found the perfect desert. I would make a Pear -Cranberry Tart, using local Oregon pears  and not even a hint of pumpkin.

The recipe recommends using a homemade shortbread cookie crust  but I purchased a two-pack of pre-made shells and just didn’t tell anyone (until now).  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Core four to five pears and quarter. Put pears into a large pot and add one pound of fresh cranberries and 2/3 cup of cane sugar. Cinnamon to taste and/or lemon zest. Simmer until the cranberries release from their casings and the mixture begins to take on the texture of…well…pie filling.  Add the filling to the crust and use the room-temperature dough of the second shell to slice into strips and lattice over the top of the tart. Bake until top has browned, usually about 30-45 minutes. Cool and serve with whipping cream or melty vanilla ice cream.

When we arrived to dinner, I nervously set my contribution in the corner, next to three versions of pumpkin pie.  Our meal commenced and things went smoothly; creamy mashed potatoes complimented freshly steamed green beans and warm bread rolls happily filled my plate.  Thank god the wine too was abundant.  As dinner wound down, I braced myself.  My boyfriend’s mom wandered into kitchen to make coffee and take orders for desert.  As she peeled back the foil on my creation, her nose wrinkled.  I couldn’t tell if the reaction was good or bad.  “Pear-Cranberry Tart,” I announced and waited for further response. Everyone aside from me took a slice of pumpkin pie and then, to be nice, a piece of my tart, with whipped cream.

Moments later a cacophony of delighted sighs spread across the room. I looked around to investigate the state of everyone’s plates.  Bites of pumpkin pie remained on everyone’s dish but every morsel of my tart had been consumed. They liked it! My boyfriend’s step-father went back for seconds, and then thirds.  By the end of the evening my pie was gone and two of the three pumpkin pies remained untouched. Victory is mine!  I thought to myself.  Then I noticed my boyfriend’s mother sulking at the edge of the room. Pumpkin pie was her son’s favorite and he had barely touched the one she made.  With the fell swoop of a single baked good, I had stolen away her baby boy.  When I asked my boyfriend later what his mom thought of me, he mentioned she was impressed by my baking skills but didn’t say much else.  It was then I realized a valuable lesson about people. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, which is true, but I now know the way to a woman’s heart is to tell her how amazing her cooking is and never, ever outshine her pumpkin pie.

When not baking, Maya Miranda, writes creative non-fiction, and will be finishing (as in graduating) her BA in English w/ writing and education minors in the Spring or ’12.