Thursday, November 22, 2012

start passing!

Yesterday on Facebook, Joan said, "Just made jello mold we have had every year for Thanksgiving since I was a kid. Mom and I are only ones who eat it now but to me it just isn't Thanksgiving without it." Thirty-one of Joan's friends 'liked' this, and nineteen made comments, but so far I've seen no answer to my question: "Lime with pineapple?"

Though I wonder how many traditional Thanksgiving dishes will go uneaten this year, I cannot blame Joan for making and enjoying the ritual jello mold. My mother often made a frozen cranberry salad mold (cream cheese, whole-berry cranberry sauce, grated pineapple, chopped pecans, and more sugar than anyone uses in any salad today). If I had the recipe, I would seriously consider making it as a dessert, but would not be surprised if nobody wanted to eat it.

Our culinary relics -- jello molds, candied yams with miniature marshmallows, green bean casserole topped with canned onion rings, and stuffing cooked inside the turkey (to name but a few) are like food placed in tombs or offered to ancestors in so many cultures. The colorful Latin-American Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is my favorite example, and one of these years I'll learn enough to write something about it.

Steve and I are celebrating Thanksgiving by ourselves this year. We have planned a relatively simple meal: turkey brined in a juniper-berry mixture, cornbread stuffing, and acorn squash 'on the half-shell' cooked in the crockpot with dried cranberries. Possibly a cactus leaf and tomato salad if that little bag of nopalitos hasn't joined its ancestors in the compost barrel.

Steve will carve our 10-pound turkey -- at the table, I hope. My maternal grandfather was known for saying: "It doesn't matter how you carve the turkey. Just do it slowly." 

Once when I was in high school, I had Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house and was horrified that her father did not carve and pass the turkey to each individual at the table in a hierarchical order. The turkey came to the table already sliced, a brief blessing was intoned, and the order to "Start passing!" was given along with an exuberant arm-waving gesture. 

Thus Thanksgiving continues to evolve as each family looks inward and outward to select the elements of which we must say, "It isn't Thanksgiving without it."

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License