Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – but it wasn’t always. That’s because yeah, while Thanksgiving is all about family and giving thanks, it’s really all about food. Although my preferences have changed over the years, when I was younger I didn’t like any of the traditional Thanksgiving foods (except for dessert – mmm…warm apple pie!) In my teen years I remember my mom’s Thanksgiving table included the usual turkey (yuck), stuffing (never liked it), and a smattering of unusual side dishes (Israeli salad? Not exactly what the Pilgrims ate). After whining and complaining as my mom was planning the next Thanksgiving she offered to make one side just for me. “Green beans,” I told her. Green beans with what, she asked? “Just green beans. Steamed.” She shrugged, but she made it. And I ate it. That, and pie.
Years later the Thanksgiving hosting duties were shifted to my older sister, who gave a gourmet twist to Thanksgiving. We didn’t have just turkey, but picked-from-the-farm, homemade-brined, cooked-on-The Big-Green-Egg organic turkey (luckily by then my aversion to turkey was a thing of the past. My brother-in-law’s turkey is soooo gooood!) Sides were multicolored cauliflower, brussels sprouts with pancetta and shallots, homemade stuffing with chestnuts and fresh herbs, cranberry chutney. And that was just what my sister and her husband made. The multi-family and -friend feast was a potluck, and everyone was encouraged to bring their favorite food. My husband’s contribution? Canned cranberries.
Our joke was that we needed to give some balance to the gourmet-ified Thanksgiving, but the truth is canned cranberries – in all its ridged and sliced glory – is a key element of my husband’s Thanksgiving tradition. It starts with the perfect can of Ocean Spray jellied cranberries (store-brand or frou-frou versions need not apply!), carefully opening the lid and letting the gelatinous contents fall out in one audible “thwap” in a perfect can-shaped form, then sliced uniformly into round full moons, and displayed lovingly on a plate.
The best part – when the canned cranberries and the cranberry chutney were served side-by-side on the buffet, guess which went faster? Yup. Don’t mess with tradition.
One year another guest took it upon him or herself to plate the cranberries, deciding to “pretty” it up with some fork-fluffing. The look on my husband’s crestfallen face was priceless. After that, we guarded the can until the timing was perfect to unleash the cran-goodness.
Last year we had some fun with my sister: we dressed up a can of cranberries like a Pilgrim, named him Crandall, and documented his journey from can-to-plate.
As with most traditions, Thanksgiving has evolved for my immediate family. We now rotate years, going to my sister’s house every other year and my husband’s family in the opposite year. This year was also a change for my sister as she took a year off (after 11 straight years of hosting duties) and flew to the nearest tropical island with her family. Can you blame her?
So this year, in our absence, we sent Crandi. So far, she seems to be having a blast.
It’s Thanksgiving – and it’s all about family, food, and having a bit of fun.
Happy Thanksgiving! Go ahead…play with your food.