Learn About Martha's Thanksgiving Pie-Giving Tradition—Plus, Her Expert Decorating Tips

Each November, our founder bakes dozens of pies to give to her team at Bedford. Here she shares how the tradition began and this year's recipes.

It's funny how a spontaneous gesture can become a favorite tradition. Many years ago, I used to give everyone who worked for me at the farm a fresh turkey from a local farmer right before Thanksgiving. Then one year I decided to add a homemade pie, thinking it would be fun to see how long it would take to make about 20 of them. They were so well received and loved by everyone—and I so thoroughly enjoyed making them—that I did it again the next November, and the next, and soon it wasn't Thanksgiving for me without this ritual. (The pies have long since replaced the turkeys!) Now it's a labor of love I look forward to every fall.

assorted Thanksgiving pies
Pieter Estersohn

It isn't actually difficult to make a pie, once you've mastered a few techniques. Making 12, 24, or even 30 is simply a matter of mathematically increasing the time and ingredients (not to mention kitchen space). If you plan ahead, shop wisely, and choose recipes that aren't too complex, you'll be able to bake as many as you need. About a week before Thanksgiving, I prepare plenty of my favorite pâte brisée pie dough, which I roll into flat disks and freeze. You can also make crusts from graham crackers, cookie wafers, or even crushed saltines, as for the Cranberry-Meringue Tart shown below

Martha on steps of Bedford home
Pieter Estersohn

This year's assortment is varied and colorful. Each pie has only a bottom crust, requiring about half as much pâte brisée as those with top or lattice crusts, and the fillings are delicious and unfussy. I've embellished their tops with pastry leaves, sugared cranberries, sweet meringue, and pecan halves.

I try not to repeat flavors too often. In the past, I've made and given pumpkin, apple, lemon, and even walnut pies. I like to mix it up, and encourage you to do the same. Your friends and family will love trying new flavors and cherish the tried-and-true.

three holiday pies
Pieter Estersohn

The Pies Martha Is Making This Thanksgiving

This year Martha is baking enough Sweet Potato Pies with Decorative Leaves, Cranberry-Meringue Tarts, and Brown-Butter Bourbon Pecan Pies to send home with her staff on the farm and serve at her own Thanksgiving dinner. Here's how she makes the festive flourishes that decorate these pies.

pecan rings
Pieter Estersohn

Pecan Rings

For a uniform finish, select the prettiest pecans for embellishing the top, and use the rest to make the filling.

1. Group the pecans by size.

2. Spread them on a baking sheet. Arrange the pointy ends in the same direction so you can work smoothly.

3. Place each nut on the filling, flat-side down and pointy-end out, and form a circle just inside the perimeter of the crust.

4. Continue making concentric circles, each overlapping slightly with the preceding one, until you reach the center. Bake.

meringue wreath being piped
Pieter Estersohn

Meringue Wreath

For seamless piping, place the pie on a rotating cake stand, and practice on parchment paper first.

1. Transfer the meringue mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large petal, such as Wilton 127D ($3.99, walmart.com) or leaf tip.

2. Hold the tip at a 45-degree angle to the edge of the crust. Press down while squeezing the bag, then lift up while pulling toward the crust. Do a second swoop, pulling it away to create a V shape. Repeat around pie.

Sugared Cranberries
Pieter Estersohn

Sugared Cranberries

These frosted jewels can also be served on their own in a bowl.

1. Simmer fresh or frozen cranberries in simple syrup; let cool in the liquid.

2. Remove the berries from the syrup, and let them drain on a wire rack until tacky.

3. Toss them in a bowl of granulated sugar to coat, then let them dry completely on the rack.

Pate Brisee Leaves
Pieter Estersohn

Pâte Brisée Leaves

With this technique, you can make many elegant accents in advance and put them on right before serving. Another plus: They won't burn, which can happen if they're baked on the pie itself.

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Roll one disk of chilled pâte brisée dough out 1/8 inch thick.

3. Stamp out pastry leaves, using a 2-inch maple-leaf or other shape cutter. (You can also cut them out freehand with a sharp knife.)

4. Arrange them in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

5. Score "veins" on each leaf, using the back of a paring knife or the edge of a small offset spatula. Refrigerate for 15 minutes more.

6. Brush them with egg wash, and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

7. Bake them until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes; let cool completely on a wire rack. The leaves will keep for a few days in an airtight container at room temperature. Once your pie is baked and cooled, scatter the leaves on top and serve.

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