Most families fondly recall the savory dishes of a Thanksgiving feast. But my childhood memories center on one dessert: pie.
Not just any pie. In our family, we capped Thanksgiving with raisin pie.
Sadly, I never really understood the tradition as a bratty child. When you’re young, you don’t question your parents or grandparents. Yet, I always wanted to know: “Why are we having raisin pie when all my friends talk of apple, pecan and pumpkin?”
Years later after my grandmother passed away, my dad told me the story as he reminisced about his hard-scrabble childhood. Every summer he would trek to the San Joaquin Valley, with his mother and grandmother, for the grape harvest.
This is how the Luna family earned extra cash. They picked the grapes and laid them on a flat tray. Six weeks later “sun dried” raisins emerged. At the end of their journey, which took him away from home and school for several weeks, dad said “we were allowed to take home as many raisins as we could carry.”
My grandma would save the raisins and bake pies for the holidays. She’d soak them until they got juicy plump, blending in her secret ingredients (likely cinnamon and vanilla) to make the filling. “They were so good,” my dad recalls with heavy nostalgia.
I felt foolish and selfish when my dad told me this story for the first time. I was complaining about raisin pies when “Grandma Lupe” was literally baking the fruits of her labor just like her mom did before her.
After my grandma died unexpectedly in a car accident in 1991, my mom kept the tradition by baking raisin pies each year for my dad. She and my teenage daughter, Hannah, now bake the pies together.
And every Thanksgiving I savor each bittersweet bite.
After all, it’s a Luna family tradition.–Nancy Luna
We know most people don’t have time or the skills to bake over the holidays. So, the food team has compiled a list of our go-to places for pies and tarts.
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez has spent 42 years baking pies for the Yorba Linda restaurant. His pies are placed in a display case and ready for customer’s taste buds.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez has spent 42 years baking pies for the Anaheim-based restaurant chain. He shows off three of his creations: seasonal Chocolate , clockwise from left, Banberry, and traditional Pumpkin on Monday, November 6, 2017.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez adds the finishing touches to his Pumpkin Dream pies in Yorba Linda on Monday, November 6, 2017.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Mounds of strawberries complete Polly’s Banberry pie.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Silky whipped cream tops a Banana Cream pies at Polly’s in Yorba Linda on Monday, November 6, 2017.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez drips caramel over a Chocolate Cream Pie in Yorba Linda on Monday, November 6, 2017.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez has worked for the restaurant chain 42 years. He shows off some of his creations on Monday, November 6, 2017.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez has spent 42 years baking pies for the restaurants. He shows off one of his chocolate cream pie creations on Monday, November 6, 2017. Polly’s makes up to 90,000 pies during November. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Polly’s team member Chuy Gomez has spent 42 years baking pies for the Yorba Linda restaurant. He shows off the restaurant’s seasonal Pumpkin Dream.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The smooth velvety cheesecake sold by the slice, or preordered by the pan, is topped with strawberries. The fruit topping is an optional choice for diners. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Restaurant writer Nancy Luna first discovered the Rutabegorz cheesecake in her early 20s. She loves the velvety smooth center, and sour cream frosting. Rutabegorz has locations in Orange, Tustin and Fullerton.(Nancy Luna, Orange County Register, SCNG)
Rutabegorz in Old Towne Orange is one of three owned by Paul Berkman. Berkman created the cheesecake recipe in 1970, the year he first opened a coffee shop in Fullerton called Rutabegorz. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Hannah Luna MacDonald, 17, never met her great-grandmother Lupe Luna. However, she learned how to make her great-grandmother’s famous raisin pie by taking baking lessons from her grandma Rachel Luna. She had fun with the crust on this pie, a favorite in Nancy Luna’s family. (Photo courtesy Hannah MacDonald)
When it comes to pie sales, November is the busiest time of the year for this Southern California institution. The 15 restaurants, which stretch from La Mirada to Norco to Laguna Hills, produce 80,000 to 90,000 pies during the month. Most orders come in the 48 hours leading up to Thanksgiving, when each restaurant sells about 3,500 pies.
Head baker Chuy Gomez oversees the baking of 30 different flavors including four types of pumpkin-based pies, three varieties of apple pie, boysenberry and the trademarked Banberry. The latter two are my personal favorites. The Banberry is a Polly’s original, a banana cream pie with fresh strawberry topping and a ring of whipped cream. And, I can’t resist a pie made with the famed hybrid berry popularized by Knott’s Berry Farm founder Walter Knott.
With so many trendy chef-driven gourmet bake shops selling pies at $30 a pop, the scratch made 9-inch pies at Polly’s are thankfully approachable. Prices range from $11.99 to $19.99. (Bonus dining tip: Polly’s recently started making shakes from any slice of pie.)
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of Thanksgiving week, Polly’s has no same day orders. All orders must be placed before 9 p.m. the previous day. The last day to order a pie for pick up by 11 a.m. Thanksgiving is Wednesday, Nov. 22 by 9 p.m. Polly’s has multiple locations in Southern California. Media to order online or to find a restaurant near you. – Nancy Luna
Since I grew up eating raisin pie, I tend to favor fruit filled pies over cream or custard pies. Then, in my 20s, I discovered the cheesecake at Rutabegorz. (BTW: It’s got a crust so yes it’s a pie not a cake). I dream about this naughty decadent square-shaped dessert around the holidays. The velvety soft cheesecake is one of the original five items on the Rutabegorz menu when it opened as a coffee shop in Fullerton in 1970.
Owner and founder Paul Berkman, who developed the cheesecake recipe, said theater-goers from the old Fox Fullerton would stop by after a movie to get a piece. “We were inundated,” said Berkman, who keeps his recipe close to the vest. This much we know: It’s a cookie crust with a soft sour cream frosting. It’s baked in small batches in a 9 by 13 inch glass pan. Each pan serves 12 large square pieces, or 20-24 if you go for smaller slices. Besides cheesecake, Rutabegorz makes apple, boysenberry, pumpkin and pumpkin praline pies. Prices are $13 ($11 for pumpkin). The cheesecake is $30, plus a $10 pan deposit. Some people keep the pan “because they like it,” laughs Tustin general manager Andra Hardin.
The last day to order a pie or cheesecake is Tuesday, Nov. 21 by 8 p.m. for pickup on Wednesday Nov. 22. Rutabegorz restaurants in Tustin, Orange and Fullerton are closed on Thanksgiving. Media Nancy Luna
Forget Aunt Bessie’s sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping. Pastry chef Rachel Klemek takes that classic holiday flavor combo to a higher plane with her Jack and Zero Pumpkin Honey Tart. Dollops of marshmallow meringue, bronzed with a brulee torch, play against a thin layer of dense pumpkin filling laced with honey to create an almost chewy texture. It’s all nestled in a buttery crust. Take a glance inside the case for more holiday table contenders. The Apple Crumble Tart’s crisp, jewel-like cranberries add a pop of sweetness to perk up the tangy signature fruit. Caramel drizzle adds a finishing touch to the oatmeal crumble. Don’t forget the Black Widow Tart with caramel painted over a not-too-sweet chocolate crust, rich ganache filling and a perky white and dark chocolate pirouette garnish. Last day to order for Thanksgiving: Nov. 20. $24 for each 8-inch tart. 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa; 714-662-3095. 211 N. Broadway, Santa Ana; Media –– Anne Valdespino
This homey spot in a historic storefront is one of those places that could persuade you that America’s favorite dessert would also make a fine breakfast or dinner entrée; there’s a flavor for every occasion. The L.A.-based gourmet pie shop has been expanding to O.C. and beyond – there’s even one in Tokyo now. Along with the dessert pies, there are two non-sweet categories: savory and breakfast savory.
If you’re expecting Marie Callender’s prices, you’re in for a bout of sticker shock: Slices cost $7 and up, and a whole pie will run you more than $30. While they’re generous in size, Pie Hole is not into serving something bigger than a Buick, like a lot of down-home pie shops are.
Our Thanksgiving-appropriate samples included pies from the straight-ahead and off-the-wall parts of the menu.
The Salted Caramel Pecan pie was downright traditional in appearance and taste. It was sweet but not cloying and it was crammed with a generous proportion of pecans. It’s a little on the smallish size, but very dense.
Moe’s Pumpkin was the winner in the standard-issue category. The filling was whipped and, as a result, not too dense or heavy. It struck the balance between savory and sweet, with a strong flavor of pumpkin that seemed balanced by other, more delicate counter-notes. I appreciated that they held back on the sugar, which lets pumpkin pie’s forest-y, autumnal terroir shine through.
Earl Grey Tea was intriguingly flesh-colored in appearance. It’s earthy in taste, even a little weedy, and carried the distinct note of aromatic Earl Grey tea on the back end. It’s also a little too sticky-gooey for some and surprisingly sweet. Nice surprise: A layer of chocolate on the bottom.
Warning: The crusts on all of Pie Hole’s creations weren’t buttery, flaky and tender. They’re sturdy, almost too tough, which actually makes it a good take-out choice–it won’t crumble in your car on the way to dinner.
Last day to order for Thanksgiving is Tuesday, Nov. 21. The store is open until 10 p.m. that day. 177 N. Glassell St., Orange; 657-236-4100, Media county/ – Paul Hodgins
Maple pecan pie at Doc’s Pie Shop in Seal Beach. (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Blueberry pie is one of several fruit flavors at Doc’s Pie Shop, which opened in the spring in Seal Beach. (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Doc’s Pie Shop
Pecan pies are not as important to the Thanksgiving table in California as they are in Texas where I grew up (and where my siblings and I were tasked every fall with gathering the countless pecans that dropped from 13 pecan trees in our backyard), so not everyone around here appreciates the absurdly sweet sugar-rush of a good pecan pie. Doc’s Pie Shop in Seal Beach does, though. Doc’s opened in the spring, a hybrid coffee shop and pie emporium. The daily menu offers more than a half dozen freshly baked pies: banana cream, blackberry, blueberry, key lime, caramel apple, Irish apple, peach… Whole pies normally require 48 hours notice, but the cutoff for Thanksgiving is Saturday, November 18, to be picked up on Wednesday. Also important: Only three pies are available for Thanksgiving orders: apple, pumpkin and maple pecan. Pumpkin pie, $24.95; apple and maple pecan pies, $27.95. 350 Main St., Seal Beach, 562-431-2099, Media –Brad A. Johnson
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