Invisible Pie Labor.

Posted on
Nov 21, 2023

It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and as holidays bear down upon us, I find myself repeating the same refrain again and again: You do not need to make pumpkin pie from scratch. You do not need to make anything from scratch. You do not need to recreate a family recipe passed down for generations. Your dead relatives won’t notice. They’re dead.

You can phone it all in while you quietly drink a cocktail. The “cocktail” can just be vodka served in a plastic mug shaped like a turkey.

I want people to know this. We all need to be reminded that the time that we spend in our kitchens should be a choice.

It should be. It isn’t always.

Among heterosexual couples, women are much more likely than their male partners to do the majority of the cooking and meal prep (a fact that holds true whether or not a couple has children). Women are more likely to do the majority of the cleaning as well – a trend that is exacerbated by holidays, when hosting and cooking duties are increased. And we’re more likely to feel anxiety about a home that doesn’t look perfect, because we blame ourselves for it. We were taught home economics, which is only part of the equation. We should have been taught home socialism. About the unfair division of home labor, how so much of that work we’d do would be invisible.

And so, either poetically or out of spite (perhaps both) I have made a clear pumpkin pie.

Some of you are probably staring at the photo above and trying to decipher what, exactly, is going on (this is similar to the confusion you will feel after you turn forty and young people mention celebrities they like). Some of you may simply be making strange whirring noises, and that’s okay, too. I did all of those things, and I am the one who summoned this demon pie in the first place.

There is a pie here, I swear.

To make a clear pumpkin pie, you need highly concentrated pumpkin pie extract, and a complete disregard for the sanctity of dessert. I possess both. The former was courtesy of my friend Scott:

The latter, I procured myself.

Should you have an overwhelming desire to know what it is like to eat an entire pumpkin spice Yankee candle, or if you’ve ever just dreamed of going over the river and through the woods to fellate a gingerbread man, feel free to sample the extract straight from the bottle. Otherwise, heed the multiple warnings (on both the label and the website) to refrain from this temptation.

There are a few recipes online for clear pumpkin pies, and I used them as a rough guideline for how to proceed. A clear pie is usually made with a flavored gelatin filling, poured into a blind-baked pie crust. Instructions say that you can use a storebought crust, and I am here to tell you that you absolutely can take that shortcut. There is no shame in this.

Still, I did not take this shortcut.

The last time I suggested a similar timesaver – that storebought pumpkin pie is just fine – I was told I was a lazy piece of garbage, and that I didn’t deserve a family if I was unwilling to feed them properly. This time around, a culinary luminary told me that “fine” was synonymous with “meh.”

And so I make my crust from scratch, plagued by the belief that I am a bad wife, and a bad person if I don’t. Because the lesson instilled in me early on was that if you cut a culinary corner, you are cheating your family. That they deserve the very best, and that means standing in the kitchen from roughly mid November to whenever the next insurrection is, whether you want to be there or not.

Wariness is an appropriate response.

The mechanics of blind baking – baking a pie crust shell with nothing in it – is a tricky thing. The crust is inclined to shrink. You see your efforts grow smaller before your eyes. If you affix the crimped edge too firmly to the pie plate’s rim, tension will cause the crust to split as it contracts. The important takeaway is that I made it from scratch, and I am still a bad wife. It is good that we never had children, because they’d have been arsonists.

This is the true meaning of Christmas.

The problem with any invisible labor is that, by its very nature, it is unseen. We take it for granted. You only really pay attention when things go wrong – when the milk runs out, when the dishes are piled up, when the grass needs cutting. When everything falls into place no one notices.

But the pressure remains – and it falls disproportionately on women: to prepare beautiful food (from scratch!), to also be absurdly thin, to host people in our homes which are immaculate but also somehow inviting. To have children and a career (and if you don’t have one of those, to be stared at, for a very long time, with a mixture of pity and judgement because you are supposed to have it all and also not be exhausted and if you are exhausted perhaps you should try this $80 eye cream?) All of this creates a low-level anxiety that maybe we all just suck, all of the time, we will never stop sucking. We do all of these things in our attempts to feel better, to feel like we are good enough.

And yet so many of our efforts are unseen.

I love to bake. But when it becomes an obligation, the joy can leech out of it. And when I try to relieve others of this pressure – when I tell them that they are enough, and that Costco makes a banging pumpkin pie (#notapaidendorsement) I am met with derision. We will always feel like we need to do more. We will always think that we are not enough. If you love to cook, do it. But this holiday, if you need to, if it all too much for you, please: let fine be enough.

Because sometimes you can do everything you are supposed to do. You can even make the pie from scratch. And, still, no one will see it.

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