By Joanna Sciarrino
In the middle of summer, we were getting serious about turkey. It was a hot day, but we were cranking up the oven and diving into Thanksgiving recipes with full force. As we batted around ideas for stuffing recipes and mashed potatoes with even more butter, I was tasked with a dream assignment—finding the best mail-order pies from across the country.
After all, what if people don’t want to make their own pies this year? What if they wanted to order them? Where could they get really good pies shipped in the mail? This was a good idea. And it started innocently enough. A superior dutch apple from California? Gotta try it! The best whiskey walnut from Wisconsin? Call it in! But all of a sudden, there were 75 pies on the way to our offices. I realized I was maybe in over my head… and my appetite. And yes, I realize there are worse things than being stressed out by pie.
Thankfully, a few faithful, fearless, and relatively hungry colleagues were willing to help (shocking!)—after all, this wasn’t our first time judging a food competition. We divided tastings into two rounds organized by logical autumn treat categories: Pumpkin, apple, and berry varieties the first day; pecan, custard, and “other,” such as s’mores and Boston cream, the next. With lots of forks at the ready, we bravely dug in.
Steadily we ate our way through 20, 30, 40 different pies (one slice of each was more than enough for four people to try multiple times, if necessary), pausing to discuss, refill our water cups, and breathe. Our palates were fatigued, our stomachs upset, and we were awaiting the inevitable crash from a very serious sugar high. But the hardest part wasn’t pacing ourselves or making sure to save room for the next category (we saved pecan for last?!).
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No, the hardest part was choosing just six from the whole bunch. But we winnowed it down to our favorites and all the pies, winners included, were eagerly consumed and taken home by our non-tasting colleagues. The easiest part of it all, though? Vowing not to touch another pie until next Thanksgiving.
Our Top Picks
Sour Cream Apple Walnut from Little Pie Company Packed with tart Granny Smiths, $30
Pumpkin from Sweetie Pies The creamiest autumn classic, $30
Bourbon Pecan from Two Fat Cats Bakery Not too sweet, nor too boozy, $22.50
Buttermilk from Porch Pies The custard filling is as smooth as velvet, $30
S’mores from Butter and Scotch Hey, adults—resistance is futile, $35
Michigan 4-Berry from Achatz Pies Bursting with local blueberries, cherries, and more, $24
How to Choose a Top Pie
With so many amazing options out there, how do you choose the pie of your dreams? You don’t have to sample 70 different ones (although if you do, the antacids are on your tab, not ours). Instead, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I want to go traditional or creative?
You may salivate over the idea of a s’mores pie, but will your family exile you from the Thanksgiving table if you show up without pumpkin in tow? Will you be disappointed if you skip the traditional pecan in favor of a pretzel pie? Do I want a lattice or a crumb topping? Only you (and your family) can answer these questions.
What’s my price point?
Our choices range from $22.50 to $30, but you can certainly find pies above and below that price point. Factor in shipping, plus the cost of ice cream and whipped cream before you make your final decision. For some home cooks, being freed from the task of rolling out pie dough is priceless.
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What makes it special?
When you’re ordering online, good word of mouth makes all the difference. Read reviews and seek out the advice of past customers. What did they love about the pies? Are the crusts extra-flaky? Did the filling contain the perfect amount of nutmeg? You’re blind buying instead of blind baking (heh, heh), so do as much research as possible. Or, you could just take our word for it…
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photo: Danny Kim