Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Pass the Cranberries

Still hung over from last Thursday?   

I am happy to announce that I made my triumphant return to hosting Thanksgiving dinner after a year off due to a fractured kneecap and a gallstone stuck in my bile duct.   Well, you asked.   Actually you didn't.

The art of holiday cooking is new to me, but totally pleasurable and oddly therapeutic.  I approach it all like an Army maneuver.   Just keep it moving in an orderly fashion.   And keep the dishwasher humming.

Back in the day, Thanksgiving Day had me watching the parade while everybody else did stuff around me.   The smell of frying onions would wake me up around 8AM.  I was savoring a breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and already my stomach was churning with this bizarre odor in the early morning.  It could mean only one thing.

It was Thanksgiving and Grandma was downstairs making the stuffing.

Our family Thanksgiving dinners were probably no different than yours.  Certainly not as warm and fuzzy as magazine ads would lead you to imagine.  Loving family members, heads bowed in grace, thanking the Lord for the food they were about to partake.  Good feelings all around.

Nah.  Maybe you heard the following, too.

"You didn't make turnips this year?  What's wrong with you?"

"The white meat is way too dry.  Did you bother to baste it?"

"I'm not sitting next to him/her unless they apologize."

Oh, yeah.  Norman Rockwell is a myth.

Our gatherings were frequently held at our house.  Grandma and my mother would co-op the cooking together as other ends of our family would come to call and dine around Grandma's big dining room table downstairs.  The fact that my mom and her mother-in-law were working together was news worth of Ripley's Believe It or Not.  Rarely on the same page, they were barely in the same book when it came to holiday cooking. 

I have an ultra-vivid memory of one such skirmish.  Mom and Grandma had such a dust-up that, when my grandmother turned her back, my mother picked up one of those Pillsbury biscuit cans and pretended to take a swing at her.  A tough vision for a seven-year-old.

"Oh, my God.  Mommy's gonna bash Grandma in the skull."

Or something like that.

I'd try to stay out of the line of fire by sequestering myself in front of the television and watching Bullwinkle float down Broadway.  Eventually, the other relatives would show up and even the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the parade couldn't upstage that year's family drama.

"Stop telling me how to raise my kids."

"I will if you stop telling me how to raise my kids."

"If you've got gas, please go in the other room."


And that's before dinner.

On our table were the usual staples.  Turnips and sweet potatoes, which I could never tell apart.  Green beans, which were usually fresh.  Mashed potatoes, which were never completely a unanimous favorite.

"I like them creamy."

"They're too lumpy."

"They're too dry."

"Did you forget the butter??"

And, amid all the fresh food, there was my favorite Thanksgiving dish.  Cranberry sauce.  Still is.  These days, I'm enjoying a homemade concoction of this fruit, usually mixed with oranges and cherries.  But it didn't get that fancy years ago.  Nope, my family always opted for the can.

The Ocean Spray can.

The one you opened with a can opener and the cranberry sauce slid out in one gloppy mold.  Just like we used to slip the dog food out of the Ken-L-Ration can.  With the cranberries, they didn't even bother to use a knife to slice it.  Somebody would simply take the metal lid and use that to cut up the mold.  If Martha Stewart had witnessed this scene, she would have used that same metal lid to slit her wrists.

But, to me, this was cranberry sauce and I loved it nonetheless.  Except, of course, when there was a much publicized recall of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberries one Thanksgiving.  Seems there was some poison embedded or perhaps a soupcon of botulism.  Whatever the case, I was petrified.  The moratorium was quickly called off within a month, but that didn't assauge me in the least. 

I would pass on cranberries for the next five years.  I was convinced that there was still one can out there that had been ignored by the inspectors.  And the way my grandmother used to buy in bulk, I was sure that food poisoning and/or death was no doubt lurking right around the corner of Grandma's pantry.

There was always plenty of food on our table.  One Thanksgiving, as we dined on our respective second helpings, we heard the faint sound of chewing in the kitchen.  My beagle Tuffy had hopped up on the table and was helping herself to anything she could sniff out.  Nobody took home leftovers that year.

And, of course, the most popular after dinner activity in our house was undoubtedly no different than in any American home.  From various corners of the house, we could hear the same refrain.


Dinner last night:  Sausage, peppers, and onions.

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