The turkey is on the table draped in gravy, or perhaps the tree is up with presents underneath, but no matter the details, many Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving and decorate a Christmas tree. Those things are not particularly special. What is special, however, is the adornment you made out of macaroni when you were six, or in sophomore Melissa Aiello’s case, baking over 30 apple pies with 35 of her family members in one very special night. Unique traditions like hers seem to find a special place in people’s heart during the holidays — more so than a tree or some turkey.
“Tradition is very important to me because it’s the reason why my family is as close as it is,” Aiello said.
When it comes to tradition, Aiello and her family take baking apple pies to a whole new level. Their annual apple pie night, held on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, brings their family together for more than just the big turkey day.
“It’s basically an assembly line of us and there’s groups of people responsible for certain steps in the process. We all work together — everyone has a job,” Aiello said.
Joining together with 35 of her family members, ranging from her cousins to her great aunts to her grandmother, Aiello works alongside her paternal line.
“It’s funny because it's such a small room — there’s so many of us. We always laugh about how hot it gets because the ovens are on. We have to keep the garage door open even though it’s freezing,” Aiello said.
The tiny basement full of family is divided into eight different “stations,” as Aiello would call the different jobs assigned to produce the pies. First, Aiello’s younger cousins take apples out of the cart and peel them. Those peeled apples are then passed on to her great aunt or mother to core the apples.
“We have this contraption — something that’s supposed to clamp onto the table to core, peel and slice the apple all at once,” Aiello said. “It keeps breaking,” she added with a laugh. “Every year we think it’s going to work again — we spend more time trying to fix it than actually using it.”
After the coring station comes the slicing station, where family members slice the apples into quarters. Each quarter is then sliced more finely to soak in a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent them from browning. The apples are then “done with prep,” according to Aiello.
"While the apple stuff is happening there are people rolling out the dough,” Aiello said explaining the next step in the process.
Most of the dough is handmade before, frozen and then thawed out that Tuesday morning. Once enough dough is rolled out, it is moved to the station where the dough is put in the pan and apples are added to the pie in layers, alternating between layers of apples, layers of butter, layers of powdered tapioca and, of course, generous helpings of cinnamon and sugar. It’s then passed along to the final station where the top layer of dough is added and it’s based with milk and even more cinnamon sugar. With that finishing touch — the pies are ready for the oven.
“I like filling the pie. It’s the most fun — I always love stealing a slice and dipping it in the cinnamon sugar. It’s so good,” she said with a smile.
By the end of the night, the Aiello family produces over 30 apple pies. Each family member takes a few home to enjoy on Thanksgiving or give to loved ones. Aiello described eating pie for breakfast Thanksgiving morning—right out of the pan—while she and her brother watch the parade. Needless to say, apple pie is an Aiello family favorite.
“Apple pie is literally the only thing we in eat for dessert on Thanksgiving in our family,” Aiello said with a laugh.