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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Gray Matters: What's Wrong With Tradition?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Perhaps I have been reading the wrong publications but it seems to me that an unusual number of recent food articles have contained suggestions for tweaking the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas menus.

One added a Caribbean flair to the turkey dressing, another made some exotic additions to the sweet potatoes. A third proposed an outlandish twist to the cranberry sauce. I am not sure I see a need for any of that.

Thanksgiving comes but once every twelve months. Christmas, that holiest of celebrations, occurs on a similar schedule. In my view, that is not often enough for any of us to grow tired of the traditional customs.

Thanksgiving dinner at our house was always the same. Just once we substituted a goose for the turkey, and that met with universal dismay.

We never tried that again.

The turkey was always a big one, regardless of the number at the table, because of the myriad of possibilities offered by the leftovers. The luscious soup was the favorite, but there were also sandwiches, turkey salad, and on and on.

I usually object to bragging, but I will make the exception when it comes to my herb dressing. Mother's dressing, which I grew up on, was too heavily scented with sage for my taste, so I developed my own herb combination, avoiding sage altogether. This became an instant favorite.

A daughter-in-law in Montana adopted it so it has become a stellar tradition in their part of the world, while a granddaughter has done the same in Des Moines, so the tradition lives on.

Cranberries are another element of that late November menu which I insist should not be trifled with. Rinse off a pound package of berries, combine them with sugar and water and simmer until all the berries have popped. Chill and serve, and that's that. I accepted a cranberry-orange gelatin salad if it were offered as a pot-luck gesture, but that was as far a field as I would ever go.

Then there are the yams. The mashed version, topped with marshmallows, was a bit sweet for our taste, so I prepared a more piquant candied variation, using orange juice and grated rind in the brown sugar, butter mix, and they were superb. A crisp relish tray rounded out the savory things and huge bowls of home-frozen sweet corn was the vegetable of choice.

Pumpkin pie, from the recipe on the pumpkin can, was our dessert for years. The flaky crust was made with lard. Which seems to be unacceptable any more. Toward the end of my baking years, I found a recipe for a pumpkin chiffon pie, which was even more delicious.

Topped with a dollop of real whipped cream and rounded off with strong hot coffee, it was the traditional ending for a traditional meal that I see no need to tamper with.

Christmas dinner was a similar feast. Turkey and dressing were repeated with more cranberry sauce and home-frozen corn. A frozen fruit salad was often added to the menu.

Early on, as I always baked multi-dozens of Christmas cookies each year, plates of those goodies were the dessert. In later years a very special version of fruitcake, featuring more pecans than the much-maligned candied fruits, was the dessert of choice.


I'm getting hungry just reminiscing about it all. For me that's still the culinary way to celebrate those special November and December events.

I can see absolutely nothing wrong with tradition.