I would have been a lousy pilgrim. I don’t think they had chocolate. Thanks to their Native American hosts they had plenty of corn, yes, but somehow I doubt that John Alden was able to drown his sorrows in a Hershey bar.
Never mind: I’m here to give thanks.
I love the time I spend in the kitchen. Even my tiny apartment kitchen can keep me fed for several days, including cookies—and I don’t have to load a musket for a hunt to keep it stocked. A few taps of my computer keys and food magically shows up at my doorstep. Sometimes I take it for granted, but when I walk the aisles of my supermarket and really pay attention to what is on the shelves it blows my mind. I’m thankful for that.
I am also thankful for family and friends who challenge, cajole, nag, amuse, indulge, include, and, best of all, feed me—you know who you are and which of the above applies you. (Yes, YOU.)
I am thankful for parents who infuriated, pushed, prodded, nagged, paid attention, worried (sometimes to excess), ignored me when appropriate (a/k/a “gave me my space”), and otherwise put their collective foot down—and continue to do so.
While we are on the subject of parents, I’d like to single out my mother for the moment of clarity she had many years ago that saved Thanksgiving. I recognize that this sounds like hyperbole, but for our family it is true: she saved Thanksgiving. The moment of clarity happened when she realized that poultry cooking skills eluded her. “My turkeys were turkeys” is how she continues to describe those efforts. I prefer, “Bird 1, Mom 0.”
For several years she was saved from ruining cooking turkeys by the insistent Thanksgiving invitations of her formidable sister-in-law. Unfortunately the hospitality was extended to a rather dowdy, dusty, country club. The best way to describe the country club’s food is that every year when the invitation was extended, it included the news that there was “…a new chef this year.” To which we always silently replied, “New chef, same crappy food.”
Then one year came a flash of my mother’s inspiration and we found ourselves celebrating Thanksgiving at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
The Wayside Inn is the oldest continually operating inn in the country. When you’ve finished reading these pearls of wisdom, follow the link to the Inn’s website. Be warned: that simple act will put you in the mood for their fragrant, juicy roast turkey and their soul-satisfying dressing. The inn was our Thanksgiving home for many years.
Okay, let’s step back for a moment. You’re thinking, “You write a blog about cooking and food, yet on Thanksgiving YOU EAT OUT?”
I understand that you may take exception to this, so let’s consider the average Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing, and your preferred sides. Along with the fact that we pause each year to gather together, what are these items but an array of rituals? Yes, the players, the table, and the menu may change slightly from year to year, but the whole stays the same in spite of any varying parts.
My family’s ritual just happens to be slightly more codified than others’. This continues to delight us. Contrary to the rather jaded modern Thanksgiving image of a squabbling family choking down an unsatisfying meal, we are perhaps more content on Thanksgiving than at other times. My mother called me the other night to make sure that one of our yearly Thanksgiving activities is still on the itinerary—more, I think, because she was enjoying the anticipation than because of any particular worry.
By the way, if you think eating out is peculiar to my family, you should know that the Thanksgiving reservation book at the Wayside Inn opens every year on the Tuesday morning after Labor Day weekend, and is usually sold out within an hour or two.
As time has passed, our Thanksgiving ritual has undergone some changes. My dad has been gone many years, and our annual family picture standing in front of the inn’s fireplace serves as the photographic equivalent of pencil lines on a door post measuring my Baby Niece’s march to adulthood. The rest of us have not changed even one little bit.
As my brother and I made lives elsewhere and my mother moved south, we found a wonderful alternative to the Wayside Inn at The Elms in Ridgefield, Connecticut. An intimate, home-like setting, we have had so many Thanksgivings at the Elms, that each year it is like visiting family.
The ritual even allows me to invoke the memory of my Dad each year. He loved Baked Indian Pudding, having originally discovered it at Boston’s famous old Durgin Park restaurant. When it is placed in front of me for Thanksgiving dessert, my Pop is again seated at the head of the table where he belongs.
I am not going to advocate that you must include Baked Indian Pudding on your Turkey Day dessert roster. I think it’s delicious, however I recognize that compared to the other pies, cakes, jello molds, and sweets available, this milky cornmeal molasses mush is a bit plain. In fact, straight from the oven it is just a hop, skip, and a half teaspoon of salt away from being a side dish, like some supple spoon bread. For dessert you must dress it up with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of warm maple syrup. It reaches its full potential as a humble team player.
I don’t cook on Thanksgiving. I have no (pardon the pun) sage advice on roasting the best turkey ever, or whether you should smear butter under or over the bird’s skin.
I just know that I am thankful.
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