In “Amelia Bedelia,” the first volume of a children’s book series created by Peggy Parish, the main character starts a new job as a housekeeper. Before she gets to the long to-do list, she prepares pie with ease, even pleasure, because she “makes good pie.” She then follows the instructions regarding her duties to the letter. When she is asked to clean the furniture from dust, she sprinkles powder all over it.
Her boss is so angry that she plans to fire her, but Amelia Pie immediately changes her mind. It is so delicious that the woman forgets her anger and even vows to change her way of leaving instructions. (“Dust the furniture.”)
As Thanksgiving approaches, I think about that story a lot. As a child (well, sometimes as an adult), I truly believed that baking a good pie could fix everything.
Food alone cannot heal wounds or soothe past or present tensions, but it can be a small kindness, especially at the Thanksgiving table, and especially when cooking for those with dietary restrictions.
Accommodating allergies is non-negotiable, but preparing dishes for those who cannot or prefer not to eat gluten or dairy can be an act of grace. These two dishes – delicious sticky rice filling and pumpkin meringue pie – will make these guests feel like you care about them. It may be a cliche, but it’s true: it’s delicious enough for everyone to enjoy.
Nothing compares to buttered bread filling, so instead of trying to imitate it, make another filling that shares its best qualities: chewiness and richness. Short-grain glutinous rice, sometimes called sushi rice, contains no gluten but has a completely satisfying, smooth taste in contrast to the tough texture of wild rice used in nut and dried fruit fillings in North America.
In my Chinese American upbringing, the head of the household stuffed the turkey with ginger sticky rice as an adaptation of traditional Chinese stuffed duck and chicken. In his book “Mr. Jiu in Chinatown,” written with Tianlun Hu, Chef Brandon Jew shares his recipe for noh mai gai (quail with sticky rice) and describes it as “the Chinese equivalent of turkey and stuffing.”
For the starchy turkey side, I took inspiration from this dish, in which rice steams into a firm mass in lotus leaves, and another Cantonese sticky rice dish, yao mee fan, in which the grains remain distinct when simply stirred on the stove. One of the main commonalities between the two is the combination of fatty pork and meaty mushrooms, which makes the rice grains flavorful and even filling. Instead of adding a pinch of ginger, I add a handful and sizzle the finely chopped pieces until they’re crunchy, their sharp heat turning into warm, fragrant crunchy bits.
With the balance of saltiness from the bacon and the natural sweetness of the sticky rice, the finished dish pairs well with any Thanksgiving spread. And because it’s cooked entirely on the stove, it doesn’t take up precious space in the oven.
This pumpkin meringue pie does just that, but it can be baked a few days beforehand, then simply topped with meringue before serving. With a pecan crust and coconut milk-rich pumpkin filling, this dessert blends two Thanksgiving standards — and it’s also suitable for those who don’t eat gluten or dairy. The thin, swirly meringue layer provides the scent of whipped cream, and the burnt edges provide the delightfully bitter sweetness of burnt marshmallow.
The pressed crust, toasted with ground nuts and oats, is a welcome new base for spiced pumpkin custard. It’s such a departure from typical pie crust that guests won’t compare it to a traditional flaky crust, which is difficult to replicate without wheat flour. They will only enjoy its unique taste.
Even the most ingenious traditional veneer makers are beginning to fill this need. Alan Nugent co-founded Stockholm Pie & General Store in a Wisconsin river village (population: 76) with his husband, Steve Grams, and his sister, Janet Garretson, 15 years ago. They’re known for their exceptional flaky pie crust. In the late 1970s, Ms. Garretson learned the crust-making technique from “an elderly German farm woman” while serving as a pastor’s wife in western Kansas, Mr. Nugent said.
Now they are considering adding a walnut shell option. “We never thought about gluten-free pie,” Mr. Nugent said. “We just thought gluten-free pie crusts were gross, so we wouldn’t make them.” But the shop started taking requests for gluten-free pies four years ago – by which point, Ms Garretson had retired – and after much experimentation, the Stockholm Pie team came up with a “pretty good” replica of their beloved original crust. There are already twice as many gluten-free orders this season than last Thanksgiving.
Increasingly, these are becoming part of orders that include regular pancakes as well, an indication that hosts are taking the dietary preferences of different guests into account. Whether you buy a pie or bake your own, serving one that all guests can eat can bring a little Amelia Bedelia magic to the meal.
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