Gathering Together: Thanksgiving Reflections

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Thanksgiving dinner began when Mom placed the turkey in front of Dad on a table loaded with traditional side dishes and seven empty plates waiting to be filled.

Gather together, Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving, holiday traditions, cookingDad’s only job was to carve the turkey; and his tradition was to wiggle the turkey leg and remark that it might be undercooked. This was followed almost immediately by my Mom’s version of the stink eye. Fifty years of cooking Thanksgiving dinner told her otherwise. Dad began to carve, hoping for victory, but Mom’s expertise prevailed and dinner was on.

Gathering around the table at Thanksgiving is a favorite memory.  It’s not just about the food—OK it is about the food. But as I’m preparing Thanksgiving for my own family, I understand the deeper meaning of this memory; a celebration of traditions and reminders that we are richly blessed. It’s all about the blessings–with food.

Childhood Reflections

We ate early. Not because of parades or football games but because Mom wanted to get out of the kitchen before midnight. Leftovers, generally available as soon as everyone got up from the table, were up for grabs until we went to bed. The next morning, we could smell turkey soup simmering in the kitchen; soup so good it could broker world peace.

I have to pause here and remind my readers that my parents were Army veterans.  Some of that leftover turkey became creamed turkey on toast; Mom’s version of the military’s SOS. I have not continued that tradition and replaced the pre-made rolls with homemade bread.

I grew up with turkey roasted in the oven—stuffed. There were a lot of people to feed and the bird weighed in at 22 pounds or more. No deep-fried bird ever made its way into our repertoire and Mom never veered into the fad lane. There were no roasting bags, exotic flavors or meat that wasn’t turkey.  It was a time for good china, sterling flatware and damask tablecloths.

Dinner was followed by slices of pumpkin pie that had equal or greater amounts of real whipped cream over the top. No Cool Whip on the high holidays at our house. Mom made a killer pie crust and the filling was the recipe on the Libby’s canned pumpkin label. There was always apple pie as a back-up with the same pie-to-whipped-cream ratio.

New Thanksgiving Traditions

Before I got married I shared many Friendsgiving celebrations though the term was yet to be coined. A mashup of friends and Thanksgiving, it offered a home away from home for anyone that wanted a seat at the table. Potluck was the order of the day with eclectic dishes that broadened my holiday horizons. It’s where I learned to appreciate other people’s traditions and the joy of sharing a communal meal.

Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving, holiday tradtitions, turkeyWe celebrated the everydayness of our lives, sharing conversation and laughter. We met friends of our friends and often gathered around a fireplace or wood stove for appetizers and again between the big meal and dessert.  Casual dining wtih borrowed tables and chairs replaced formality.

Not everyone cooked; there were always volunteers for beverages and non-food items. The host provided the turkey and the rest was up for grabs. Those who loved cooking collaborated on side dishes and dessert. Roasted Brussel sprouts, homemade cranberry sauce and bourbon pecan pie became new traditions, along with the discovery of goat cheese, pepper jelly and brie baked in filo cups.

Give Thanks, Eat Pie

The pies of my childhood were pumpkin, apple and pecan, and the occasional lemon meringue (from the box). Cranberry sauce was the B roll, sidelined to a small bowl dwarfed by much bigger bowls.

pies, Thanksgiving pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, whipped creamBut pair the fresh cranberry with apples or raspberries and it transforms itself. In a pie, it needs a supporting cast of flavors to balance the tartness of the berry. This cranberry, caramel and almond tart called my name. I have mini tart pans (of course I do), making it easy to dish up single servings.

The free form crust is a holiday time saver and Ina Garten’s apple crostata has been a seasonal go to for many years. The addition of cranberries or raspberries adds color and expands the flavor. If your pie skills aim for rustic over pretty, this is the one.

For those who believe classic pumpkin pie should never be tampered with, skip this part. I like to experiment and found this ginger streusel pumpkin pie. The natural alliance of warm spices with an extra layer of flavor in the topping makes a tasty combo.

Crown them all with some grown up bourbon whipped cream.

Holiday Nostalgia

I miss the days when Mom presided in the Thanksgiving kitchen and dad carried the supporting actor’s role. It’s holiday nostalgia, wrapped in memories of sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green bean casserole and canned cranberry sauce. The warmth of childhood holidays surrounds me like a warm blanket and I sense my mom’s spirit in unexpected places.

There's always something to be thankful forWhen those feelings overwhelm me I head to the store for some instant nostalgia, because nothing says 1960’s holiday dinner like a can of cranberry sauce and a tube of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

Where ever you gather this Thursday, may your day be filled with traditions, the love of family and friends and a deep sense of gratitude for life’s blessings.  Blessings—with food.

Because there is always, always something to be thankful for.