Thanksgiving is a celebration of all things we have to be thankful for. My parents survived The Great Depression so while we struggled financially at times as a family, there was always plenty of food on the table and in the refrigerator. My mother’s hobby was to go grocery shopping and to cook and bake.
There were always grandparents, aunts & uncles, and cousins for Thanksgiving. Looking back it must have been hard work or perhaps a labor of love. Although other family members brought food, my mother did the bulk of the work.
I remember roast turkey and stuffing. Not only stuffing in the bird but also another big pan of stuffing as well as some sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, schliskas – a Hungarian potato dumpling which is then sauteed with onions/celery/bread crumbs, then baked. Schliskas were a ton of work and only happened once a year. I remember somewhere in my teen years suggesting that we save schliskas for another occasion since we had so much food already but nobody else liked the idea because it was a tradition. We never had gravy except for au jus. We probably had a vegetable but green veggies were never served as my father only liked iceberg lettuce. I think there was a first course, perhaps vegetable soup (vegetables were acceptable in soup) or maybe chopped liver that my mother ground herself or delegated my father to do. There were two kinds of canned cranberry sauce plus a jello mold or two. Oh, the joys of jello.
I barely remember the turkey because of all the carbs. Carbs in their many forms have always been my comfort food.
I think I was seated at the kids table way past my prime. Our tables extended from the dining room into the family room, like a train. All aboard. There always seemed to be room for one more and relatives (distant cousins) whom I never knew and never saw again, showed up on Thanksgiving.
Everyone was always so full, uttering oh my gods and oy veys, while claiming they couldn’t eat another bite but yet when the mention of dessert was uttered — the fullness evaporated and dessert was served.
Ours was a kosher household; we never had pumpkin pie for dessert because of the milk ingredient which didn’t appear in the same meal where meat was eaten. Quite frankly, I never ate pumpkin pie until I was an adult and living on my own. Quite frankly, I only thought pumpkins were used as jack-o-lanterns on Halloween.
After the midday meal, the men and boys would retreat to either watch football on TV or go outside and play, and the women and girls were responsible for cleanup and washing dishes. We didn’t have an automatic dishwasher so it was laborious all the way around.
Within minutes there was heavy snoring from the TV room as all the male adults fell asleep even though football blared in the background.
After what seemed like a long time, the women and we girls would sit back down at the table and chat or gossip about these distant cousins who ate and left. Or my girl cousins and some of the boys would play board games or listen to 45 RPMs. Sometimes we would eat more dessert. After a few hours of the men sleeping then waking up with a food hangover, they hungered for turkey sandwiches. Out came the turkey fixings for supper. This time around sandwiches were served on paper plates leftover from previous kids’ birthday parties.
I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving with any family members for decades. Of course, my friends become my family. This year I have invited a few friends over for a meal which is much different than the carbo-laden Thanksgivings of my past. Although I still lust for stuffing, roasted vegetables plus sweet potatoes and a modern green bean dish will be served as well as a roast turkey breast and homemade cranberry-ginger-orange relish.
What Thanksgiving traditions do you cherish?
Have you started your own Thanksgiving traditions?
What is the one thing that you cannot live without on Thanksgiving?
Recipe: Modern Green Beans
I have never liked the traditional green bean casserole but I love green beans and canned French fried onion rings. So I decided to use what I like and leave the rest behind.
1 pound raw green beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
zest + juice from 1 small lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup canned French fried onions
1/2 cup dried cranberries (opt.)
Remove tough ends from green beans, wash, and steam until tender crisp (about 2 minutes). Drain. Rinse in cold water. Combine the olive oil, butter, zest, juice and salt. Pour over green beans and toss gently. Add onions, toss lightly. Sprinkle with dried cranberries (opt.) Serve at room temperature. For leftovers, toss into greens and/or add freshly grated Parmesan cheese or goat cheese.