Why November Is the Best Month for a Pie Potluck
When the beginning of the holiday season rolls around, and the leaves have fallen off the trees, I throw a massive potluck — a pie potluck. You see, a pie potluck is a perfect holiday party: It’s nondenominational, it works for any group of people and any time of day, and it can be causal or formal. Whatever kind of party I want to throw, a pie party fits the bill.
When I first started this tradition, my pie party turned into a potluck by accident. I told everyone I was going to make all the pies myself, but my guests showed up with their own creations anyway. It turns out that everyone has a favorite recipe perfected from a beloved cookbook or handed down from a grandmother. And everyone wants to show it off.
Sometimes my pie potlucks take on the role of a “Friendsgiving,” a chance to get my chosen family together before we all head off to family obligations for the Thanksgiving holiday. On years when Thanksgiving is early, I’ve held the party after the holiday, as a kind of early Christmas/Hanukkah/solstice party.
When I host the potluck, I push my dining room table against the wall to serve as a buffet, heat up a huge percolator of coffee or make a warming, spiced punch — or both — and ring in the holidays with my community, all of us sitting on folding chairs or pillows on the floor, balancing plates of pie on our laps. It’s a ritual that I highly recommend. Here are some tips on starting your own tradition.
1. Think about the time of day — and plan accordingly.
A pie party is a great afternoon or evening gathering, but it’s also an ideal morning activity. (After all, who doesn’t like pie for breakfast?) All you need to do is vary the tone and beverages. Morning pie parties call for a big pot of coffee and some strong tea to wash everything down with. Afternoon and evening parties can feel more like cocktail hours, with wine and dim lights and soft music. Just make sure that if you schedule your party near a mealtime, you clearly state what foods will (and won’t) be served. Some people cannot live on pie alone.
2. As the host, you’ll want to provide more than one pie.
You never want guests to show up to a party and see an empty table. So even if you know that 10 other guests are bringing pies, plan to make two to four of them yourself. (After all, if you were hosting a Thanksgiving potluck, you’d be the one making the turkey.) The good news: Pies can be really easy to make! You have to plan ahead — crusts need time to rest and blind-bake — but making a few pies is a whole lot easier than making a big party spread. Just pick one kind of crust (or two, if you’re feeling ambitious) and double or triple that recipe, prep the ingredients for the fillings a couple of days in advance, and spend a few hours baking the night before the party. (Pro tip: Check the baking temperatures on your recipes because pies baked at the same temperature can go into the oven together.)
3. Set the tone by pre-slicing a few pieces of each pie.
No one wants to be the first person to cut into a beautifully decorated pie. Pre-slicing a few pieces helps your guests feel free to dig in. Also, if you cut a few very thin “tasting” slices, you’ll set the tone and let people know that it’s OK to take a tiny slice of each pie so that they can taste as many as they want — and, conversely, you’ll discourage guests who might take huge slices and eat everything up before others get a chance to taste.
4. Think about dietary restrictions.
Fifteen years ago, I didn’t think about whether people would eat pie — I just made regular gluten- and dairy-laden pie crusts and had everyone dig in. These days, I am basically guaranteed to have at least one gluten-sensitive or vegan friend attending — and maybe also friends with nut or egg allergies.
If I think I’ll have multiple guests with similar conditions, I always make at least one pie that they can eat. But if you have one friend who is sensitive or allergic to many things, and you can’t quite figure out how to make a pie crust that will accommodate their needs, remember that this is a potluck! Give them a call, let them know your concerns, and ask if they are planning to bring something that will fit the bill — and be sure to let them know that your other food-sensitive guests will appreciate their contribution too.
5. Let people know that non-pie offerings are welcome.
After a few bites (let alone a few tiny “tasting slices”), a plateful of pie can start to feel like too much of a good thing. Having a cheese plate and some crudités to nibble on can ensure that your guests don’t leave feeling over-sugared and sick. Healthy snacks are also a godsend for parents with young kids who might be fine letting their kids have a treat but don’t want them eating only sugar all afternoon long. And giving your guests a potluck option that doesn’t require them to bake will help everyone feel welcome — even if they have a busy week or don’t like to cook.
6. Plan for leftovers.
No matter how many people I invite to my pie parties, I always end up with way more leftover pie than my family and I could ever eat. So at the end of the day, I pack up some slices of whichever pies I particularly want to keep, then I portion out the rest into a stack of Tupperware-style containers and push them into my guests’ hands as they leave. This way, I never have to endure the heartbreak of throwing out pie after it’s been taking up all of my fridge space for a few days.