river muse

Thanks be

By CASS COLLINS
Posted 12/2/20

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. Even after my 8-year-old daughter apprised me of its false narrative, it managed to hold its first-place position. All that it required was the presence …

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river muse

Thanks be

Posted

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. Even after my 8-year-old daughter apprised me of its false narrative, it managed to hold its first-place position. All that it required was the presence of family, friends, a stray human and food, lovingly and ably prepared. First, by my mother, then by me, her willing student.

The food was always good in my experience. I wasn’t old enough to remember the time Aunt Bess was instructed to wash the turkey thoroughly before roasting while the rest of the family went to Mass. She used Ivory soap, I’m told, which was discovered after my great-grandfather commented on the odd taste of his breast meat. Future generations made no such mistakes, thanks to the family history of that Thanksgiving.

My mother went to great lengths to ensure our turkeys were golden brown on the outside and moist inside. From her example, I learned to preheat the oven to 425 before adding the stuffed bird, its wings wrapped in foil, then decrease the temperature to 325 soon after and baste, baste, baste. She taught me to save the giblets and put them on the stove to boil, then simmer, with a piece of onion dotted with clove and a bay leaf until ready to add to the gravy made from pan drippings. Tiny pearl onions were nestled in a divine sauce of cream and butter with a grating of nutmeg on top. A family recipe (the good kind) is finely mashed rutabaga and yellow potato. We call it Colcannon, but most recipes for Colcannon use cabbage, not rutabaga. Ours is best, of course. Add to all that crisply roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce, and you have the meal I faithfully recreate to this day. I like to say I could make this dinner with my hands tied, and it is largely true in that I need no recipe to guide me. I do need my husband’s hands, however, as he is my able prep chef.

My mother used to add a “palate-cleanser” to her table, a jelled fruit salad with a creamy dressing. I never cared for it so it has left our family menu since her passing. She died three days after Thanksgiving in 2001, having stopped eating the day after 9/11. She was in a nursing home at the time, suffering from dementia, and we elected not to put her on a feeding tube. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, though I believe it was correct. It makes Thanksgiving all the more poignant to me.

We have all lost a lot this year in terms of family togetherness. Some have lost too much to bear. Between rancorous politics and COVID-19, we are more isolated than ever. The issues that often enliven a Thanksgiving dinner table are more divisive than ever. Still, I miss the lively discourse that once pitted my great-uncle Martin, a World War II Brigadier General against my brother Chris, a 17-year-old anti-war activist awaiting his draft number. This year, I missed a lot of family, including my Aunt Nell who is in a nursing home in Massachusetts, and my Uncle George, who died in December last year. He loved to carve the turkey, and sip Scotch while watching football on the couch. His only grandchild, Rafa, was born days after he passed.

Our table was set for five this year. We are grateful for that many. A son, the daughter and her husband the only guests allowed. We ate well, thanks be.

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