Mini pumpkin pies can help Thanksgiving 2020 feel right

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Individual pies – these are pumpkin – for Thanksgiving are an adjustment you can make for a scaled-down holiday this year.

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This holiday, being asked to stay home with the loved ones you see everyday anyway is not exactly the warm and abundant approach that most Americans love. But with some patience, creativity, and flexibility, Thanksgiving 2020 can still be one that you will recall fondly.

Remember that a picture-perfect, Norman Rockwell turkey needn’t rule – something more modest is fine. Leftover pie shouldn’t be considered a problem. But our mini-pie recipe is here to help, if you need it.

Why We Wrote This

A less bountiful table and smaller crowd can still inspire a memorable meal. Here are some suggestions.

Don’t forget this part. It’s been a hard year for all of us, but take a moment to see where hope and progress are shining through, and write these things down.

Read them out loud to anyone who will listen, whether it’s to relatives over Zoom, at a table set for two, or to Whiskers the cat. Save them in an envelope, and when you revisit these tiny epistles of gratitude in the years to come – maybe future generations will find them in an attic box – you’ll have put on record how you made it through with a heart full of thanks.

Even though Thanksgiving is going to be different this year, it can still feel familiar. 

Governors across the United States are urging people to stay put, instead of bringing extended family and friends together for a few hours of gratitude and feasting. If you do spend time with those who don’t live with you, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends remaining masked when not eating, and staying 6 feet apart. Farmers and grocers have been anticipating pared-down menus that won’t require 18-pound turkeys, five different sides, and three different kinds of pie.

It’s not exactly the warm and abundant approach to the holiday that most Americans love. But with some patience, creativity, and flexibility, Thanksgiving 2020 can still be a day that you will remember for years to come.

Why We Wrote This

A less bountiful table and smaller crowd can still inspire a memorable meal. Here are some suggestions.

The word on the bird

A general rule of thumb when buying a whole turkey: One pound feeds one person. If you want Thanksgiving leftovers, up that to 1½  pounds per person. If your gathering is going to be four people or less, an 8-pound bird will be plenty. 

Another approach: Buy turkey drumsticks or a turkey breast. Cooking smaller turkey parts means you can employ your slow cooker as you binge-watch holiday movies or football, or head outside for a fresh-air hike. If you like your table to look fancy, consider cooking small Cornish game hens, one per person.

Instead of a browned bird for the centerpiece, artfully construct a charcuterie board with cured meats, olives, dried fruit, jam, nuts, hard and soft cheeses, mustards, and honey for drizzling. Add festive small gourds, sprigs of rosemary, or autumn leaves as decorations. Post your creation to Instagram.

Or, skip cooking altogether. Support a local restaurant by ordering takeout. Pack deli sandwiches and climb the nearest summit for a Thanksgiving picnic with gorgeous views. 

Sideline control

Let go of trying to make everyone’s favorite sides this year. (Unless there are vegetarians, in which case, lean in on the side dishes.) Choose a vegetable like acorn squash that makes for easy personal servings and preferences. Add a dash of garlic powder in softened butter to melt in the middle as it bakes for a savory flavor. For those who like things sweet, add brown sugar or maple syrup to a tablespoon of butter.

If there is a yearly debate over whether sweet potatoes get marshmallows or not, make them plain and then serve them in individual ramekins with brown sugar and mini marshmallows on the side. A few seconds in the microwave or a minute under the broiler in the toaster oven will make a delicious gooey topping for those who want it.

Sweet endings

Leftover pie shouldn’t be considered a problem, but if you don’t want to eat pie for days and still prefer a variety to choose from, make your favorite flavors as mini pies. This is a great way to involve kids in the meal prep, too. Use pre-made pie crusts to keep things simple. Let the pastry thaw until you can roll it and then use a 3-inch cookie cutter (or glass jar rim) to cut circles in the dough. Tuck each round into a muffin tin and spoon in your favorite filling. 

If you have too much filling for the mini pies don’t despair: Pour any extra pumpkin filling in a custard dish and bake it. Extra apples tossed in cinnamon sugar can be a topping for oatmeal or yogurt, and chocolate pudding can be finished off when you have a moment alone in the pantry.

Gratitude jars

Don’t forget this part. It’s been a hard year for all of us, but take a moment to see where hope and progress are shining through – if it is more time with your family, house projects that finally got finished, or a greater appreciation for your neighbors – it’s worth the time to write these things down. Read them out loud to anyone who will listen, whether it’s to relatives over Zoom, at a table set for two, or to Whiskers the cat. Save them in an envelope marked “Thanksgiving 2020” and when you revisit these tiny epistles of gratitude in the years to come – maybe future generations will find them in an attic box – you’ll have put on record how you made it through with a heart full of thanks.

Pumpkin Pie Bites

Makes 12 mini pies. (To avoid leftover filling, reduce all portions in the filling recipe by half.)

1 9-inch pie crust, homemade or store-bought

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon sea salt

¾ cup sugar

1 14-ounce can evaporated milk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

Whipped cream, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Allow the frozen pie shell to come to room temperature. Lightly spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Mix the pumpkin, spices, and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients, and combine.

Roll out the pastry shell on a lightly floured surface until it is flat. If the dough is cracking, mound it into a ball and roll out again. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter press out circles in the dough. Settle each pastry circle into a muffin tin. With your fingertips, gently pull the edges to the top of the cup.

Using a spoon like a gravy ladle, fill each muffin cup ⅔ full. 

Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees for an additional 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the edges of the shells so they don’t overbrown. Cool and remove from muffin tins with a butter knife. 

Top with a dollop of whipped cream if desired before serving. The pies will keep for up to a week in the fridge, and for several months frozen.

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