Thanksgiving Pie

We all have elements of Thanksgiving that are required, mandatory, and just plain ol’ absolutely-has-to-be-there for Thanksgiving to be truly Thanksgiving. Those elements are familial, nostalgic, and our connection to our sense of self and history. As children grow up and marry, having families of their own, the traditions merge and blend, but there is always a connection to one’s childhood present on the table. There are many constants: turkey, ham, mashed sweet potatoes (with or without marshmallow topping), stuffing and the list goes on. And then there are the traditions of dessert.

I like a piece of pie, or if you prefer, a slice of pie for dessert. Given the choice between cake or pie I am more likely to opt for pie, especially if I know the baker is especially good at making crusts. A good homemade pie just touches all the olfactory and gustatory elements of being human. Homemade pie is to be preferred over one purchased if for no other reasons than the amazing experience of the smells wafting from the kitchen the bespeaks of the waiting epicurean delight to come. That being said, there are bakeries that make an amazing pie. Still being relatively new to Northern Virginia I have yet to inquire about a local bakery of excellence, but in Tampa, Florida, there are the local places such as Wright’s and Allessi’s, but there is also the quite good commercial bakery of Mike’s Pie (they sell 1.5 million key lime pies a year) – who happens to also have a retail store locally.

This year stores who traditionally order a plethora of pies from Mike’s are discovering that their large orders are being limited. That can often be a case of exceptional demand, but for Thanksgiving 2021 it is a supply issue. The combination of supply chain, labor shortage, and climate change issues are affecting the availability and price of Mike’s pies.

Laura Reiley writes that climate change’s “impact is less visible but more enduring, and its consequences are playing out right as the food industry is struggling to avoid holiday season shortages. Many of the ingredients in Mike’s Pies’ pies — wheat, berries, honey, soybean oil, among numerous others —have been hit hard by climate and weather effects, including droughts, wildfires and power shutdowns around the world. That’s sending prices soaring and, combined with a scarcity of workers and other hurdles, is causing mayhem throughout the global food supply chain.”

The traditional crust for key lime pie is graham cracker crust. Mike’s Pies received a harbinger of what was to come when they were ghosted by their graham cracker crust crumb supplier who began to ghost them on the status of their orders. The supplier was facing his own supply problems. Reiley reports, “ Honey, another critical ingredient in graham cracker crumbs, is among those products facing the most weather- and smoke-related impacts, many of which are tied directly to climate change, says Dave Gustafson, professor of biological systems engineering at Washington State University. Honey has been decimated by drought and fire because it leaves bees with nothing to eat. Beekeepers across the United States, largely those located in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota, lost 45.5 percent of their honeybee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021.”

Mike’s Pies is not in the production scale league of Sara Lee, but they are far larger than most. Some of the smaller companies are finding that their suppliers have chosen to remain in the good graces of the larger companies and have dropped the smaller companies as customers, leaving them to scramble to find alternative sourcing. The business has always been a roller coaster. At Mike’s Pies there is a sign in the employee break room: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here. We’ll train you.” These days the market place and supply shortages are adding to the crazy.

This Thanksgiving perhaps there will be items missing from the table, a bit of memory and connection to the past absent from the feast. But the family and friends will gather. May we all be thankful for what is present without longing for what is not.

Laura Reiley, Washington Post article

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