Holidays are steeped in tradition and often center around family and food. Perhaps even powerful emotions. Love and the security of belonging are the nostalgic sentiments I recall from my childhood holiday gatherings. There was also the anticipation and excitement of cousin revelry. And the anxiety about the uncle who hugged too hard and insisted on a kiss on the lips. But the predominant memories were of the Thanksgiving feasts. More than any other family gathering, this one was all about the food.
What a workout for the senses were my New England Thanksgiving feasts! The autumn colors were represented in the crisp golden-brown breast of the turkey, the pools of brown gravy in the fluffy mashed potatoes and the deep red of the jiggly cranberry jelly. The aroma of juicy turkey permeated the house all afternoon. And the tang of the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in the mincemeat pie contrasted with the sweet, sugary scent of the apple and pumpkin pies. Anyone in the kitchen when the Pillsbury crescent rolls were unwrapped experienced the anticipated “pop” of the pressurized tube. Forks scraped against plates to gather up the last bit of stuffing or pie. And after the meal there were the voices of my tribe. The men shouted in alternating triumph or disappointment as the football game progressed. In the kitchen, the women shared stories and laughed as they dried the dishes that claimed every square inch of counter space. And there were squeals as we cousins played games and told each other secrets.
During my childhood these memories were re-enacted each November. But by my teen years, my grandfather had died, aunts and uncles married and some moved away. Some returned to settle back in the area. And in time I left to make my home in Fairbanks, Alaska. Far from New England, I forged a new tribe among my new friends – many of whom had settled in Interior Alaska from different parts of the country. The dishes that graced the Thanksgiving table were new, too. The turkey was still the centerpiece of the meal but homemade dill rolls replaced the crescent rolls. Candied sweet potatoes and French’s green bean casserole became staples. Gone was the mincemeat pie of my youth.
Years later another move landed me in Central Oregon. And a career move afforded me the opportunity to return to grad school, earn my masters in nutrition and pursue my passion of being a nutritionist.
Through departed loved ones, relocations and dietary shifts, Thanksgiving remains one of my treasured holidays. There is still the anticipation of gathering with special friends but the feast has transformed. Yes, the turkey is still the culinary centerpiece. The sides are mainly freshly harvested roasted vegetables – carrots with fresh herbs and Brussels sprouts with bacon. But the stuffing is now gluten-free and the pumpkin pie is a paleo version. And the dishwasher cleans and dries the dishes later in the evening.
It’s with a heart grateful for family, friends and a bountiful harvest that I eagerly await this year’s Thanksgiving feast.
Food for Thought:
- What food-related memories do the holidays bring to mind?
- How have they shaped your relationship to food and/or your eating habits?