Lena Sareini's Grandpa Gets His Own Personal Pumpkin Pie

The Food & Wine Best New Chef says, "Sometimes not everyone gets a bite. You snooze, you lose. And don’t think you can go ask my grandpa for a bite of his."

Lena Sareini Pumpkin Pie
Photo: Illustration by Eric Jeon / Photo by Catherine Sareini

The holidays will be different this year. Our series, "The One Dish," collects stories about what we're doing for Thanksgiving that will make us feel right at home.

I know it sounds cliche, but there can be no Thanksgiving dinner with my family without my pumpkin pie. My Grandpa Donald demands it each year. When I was in culinary school, I learned how to make pumpkin pie from scratch, so I decided to make one for my family for Thanksgiving.

In school, we learned to make it with canned puree but I decided to upgrade and roast my own pumpkins that I sourced from a local farm. Then I made an extra flakey crust with half butter and half shortening. The butter melts first, creating these beautiful layers in the crust, and then the shortening melts, giving it the perfect texture. I also served it with a side of ultra-rich homemade whipped cream. It’s a simple recipe, but it’s made with really high quality ingredients.

Read more: Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2020: Lena Sareini

My grandpa had the first slice and then just hoarded the entire pie! Literally no one else was allowed to have even a bite. He ate about half and then took the pie home with him and finished it there. He even told me he is now putting me in his will because of my pumpkin pie. I think this dessert has solidified my place as the favorite grandchild—sorry to my siblings.

Now, every year, I make two of my pumpkin pies: one for my grandpa, and one for everyone else to share. We usually have around 15 people at Thanksgiving dinner and that means that 14 people have to share the one pie. Sometimes not everyone gets a bite. You snooze, you lose. And don’t think you can go ask my grandpa for a bite of his. He will hover over his pie to make sure that no one else touches it. While he never finishes it at Thanksgiving dinner, he takes his leftover pie home and eats it straight out of the tin, on the couch, while watching television.

I am a pastry chef, so I am always on bread and dessert duty for Thanksgiving. I make a rotation of desserts each year—sometimes i’ll make a cheesecake, or maybe some cookies. They change every year. The only constant is the pumpkin pie. If I don’t make it, I will get shunned from the family.

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