Thursday, November 25, 2010


When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was the only day that was celebrated by a “fancy” dinner. I suspect my mother’s dislike of cooking is why we never had big dinners on Easter or Christmas – or for that matter, on Sundays. In fact, we basically had no family traditions, period. Which is probably why I tend to remember every bite of food that I ever chewed on Thanksgiving.

Food was served promptly at 2 o’clock, so mother and dad were always up before dawn getting the big turkey in the oven. The menu was engraved in stone: big tom turkey, Mrs. Cubbison’s dressing straight out of the package, mashed potatoes, giblet-less gravy, green beans, canned Ocean Spray cranberry sauce (the jellied type; god-forbid that we should have a squashed cranberry put into our mouth), store-bought Parker House rolls, lettuce and tomato salad (with nothing but Kraft mayonnaise for the dressing) and of course at the end of the meal, home made pumpkin pie. Later, as our palates expanded a bit, we added mince pie. Milk was for the kids, coffee for the adults.

It was as traditional a dinner as one could find. Nothing beyond the bare minimum went into each dish. If Mrs. Cubbison noted other possible additions to her dressing on the side of the package, they were ignored. No nuts or giblets or celery or oysters or anything else blemished the dressing that we expected on our plate. I am quite sure my mother never considered cooking fresh cranberries, smothering them in sugar as they cooked and then adding a big dollop of brandy to them (which I discovered many years later made the cranberries taste exceptionally wonderful!) Green beans were simply green beans cooked in salted water; no French cut beans, no green beans almandine or anything of the sort.

Very frankly, although I poke fun at the primitiveness of what passed for the yearly Thanksgiving feast at our house, it is still what I expect come Turkey Day. In the many years since I grew up and left my folks' bed and board, I have learned many things about enriching that gustatory experience on the fourth Thursday of November. In the “cooking” phase of my married life (which was that period of time early in my marriage with Jerry when I collected and tried out thousands of recipes because cooking and eating was such fun) I learned a whole lot about what could be done with my mother’s Thanksgiving menu. But for me, I also felt that no matter how fancy the dish, it still needed to be served at 2 p.m. and have the same basic menu but with “theme and variation” in the orchestration of the meal.

I have learned that the whole world does not have dinner at 2; there are many people who serve it at six in the evening. But for me, that isn’t a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a nice meal, but I always feel I need to go to a restaurant for the “real” one. I’ve had to learn that if you aren’t the cook, you keep your mouth shut until it is time to put the food in it! I have learned that many people say grace before the meal. My family was non-religious so grace wasn’t a part of any meal, and while I don’t feel a need to include it now I do need to wait respectfully with my eyes closed when it happens. Although my own family did not have traditions per se, there certainly was a memory of all the ways we did things stamped in my childish brain. Adulthood and good sense makes one realize that Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving no matter how you cook the turkey!

But don’t think the spiritual/historical idea of Thanksgiving flies over my head either. If it is one thing that living abroad teaches you quickly is that we have it very, very lucky here in America. God bless America. And when, like a benevolent Buddha I sit back and look at my progeny from a comfy place on the couch while the younger generation slave away over a hot stove, I am thankful that I have loving children and loving grandchildren who want me around. But it’s not only family; more and more as the old friends drop off our radar (from “movement” of one kind or another,) I think how lucky I am to have and to have had such a great coterie of friends in my life. And amazingly, the internet has brought me a whole bunch of new friends, friends that I have never laid eyes on but who have enriched my life with boundless happiness and contentment.

Jerry, I’m sure, joins me in these various forms of thankfulness. Today we head out to our son’s house where we’ll eat chopped liver as an appetizer, once again experience an old family recipe of cranberry sauce very different from my childhood but still totally delicious, enjoy the big flaky rolls that come out of a can and baked in one’s own oven, and if we are lucky find some of the acorn squash that most often graces their table on special occasions.

Who would have ever thought of eating acorn squash on Thanksgiving? Such a feast we’ll have today, even if it doesn’t include the ubiquitous lettuce and tomato salad with mayonnaise that was so much a part of my youth! That I won’t miss!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Thanksgiving is still Thanks-giving no matter the food or time--BUT--I miss my turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and yams. I am still "allowed" to make the Lebanese dressing with lamb, pine nuts, and rice, (oops, and the pumpkin pie). Sigh--my son-in-law literally spent hours preparing the turkey. What can I say???Pauline