Thanksgiving menu musings

We’re going to a Thanksgiving potluck tonight and based on how quickly everyone responded with their contribution to the meal, no one spent time scouring the internet for new recipes but instead signed up to bring a dish that is one of their traditional family favorites.

That is certainly true for me as well because I’m making the same Apple Crisp that I have made for dessert for Thanksgiving ever since Steve and I got married 30 years ago. Every time I make it, it brings back memories of our Thanksgiving celebrations; thoughts about where were we living, how old the kids were, who we shared it with, and on and on.

This got me started thinking about the Thanksgiving menu that I grew up with and the traditions in my mother’s household.

In the 1960s when I was growing up, brining a turkey was yet to be discovered. Everyone thought that the best technique to achieve a moist turkey was to open the oven door every 20 minutes and baste it.

We now know that doing this results in turkey jerky. But as a kid, I loved the responsibility of squirting the drippings from the bulb baster over the turkey’s caramel brown skin and listening to it sizzle when it dripped off the wings and hit the bottom of the roasting pan. I took my job as the baster very seriously. I felt so needed, like I was tending to a sick child and my regular ministrations were helping the patient get well. Unfortunately, the poor bird didn’t get well, but just really well done.

When it came to what to serve with the turkey,  Thanksgiving dinner always included some kind of Jello salad. I’ve always thought of those two words – Jello and salad – as an oxymoron, kind of like “fruit cocktail.” You can have one or the other but putting them together makes no sense.

Our traditional Thanksgiving Jello salad was a reflection of the place and time where I grew up: Salt Lake City, Utah (known for having the highest per capita consumption of Jello) and raised by a mother who loved the packaged convenience foods that became popular in the 1950s.

There were two Jello salad recipes that my mother alternated for special family meals. One was Tomato Aspic with pimento-filled green olives and diced celery and the other was – brace yourself – lime Jello mixed with cottage cheese, walnuts and pineapple. Both recipes were served with a dollop of mayonnaise.

Okay, so those combinations sound absolutely horrible now. But just like basting the turkey, at the time, I loved helping make them. Slicing up the olives in precise circles and saying a little prayer as I lifted the ring mold off the Jello, hoping that it had come out without cracking, are what I remember most about my Thanksgiving dinners as a kid.

It makes me realize that food is as much about the feelings that a particular dish evokes as the taste. True as that is, I think I’ll skip the Green Jello and stay with Apple Crisp.

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