Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year, for a number of reasons. I love being around my family, and I love how crazy the kitchen gets with everyone clambering around to get everything finished and out to the table. I also love having a day to remind me to be grateful for the things I have, even when they may be hard to remember.
If you've read some of my earlier posts or know my family, you'll know that we're very traditional. Traditional in the sense that we've made our traditions over the years, and we like to stick to them. So our Thanksgiving feast, although it has grown in its number of dishes as our family has grown (brothers-in-law, friends, etc.), always has certain items on the menu. Each of my sisters and I have adopted our specialties, as well. Mine is the pumpkin pie, my middle sister's is the turkey, and older sis has the yams. Baby sis does her favorite, the crescent rolls, which come out of a tube but get hand-rolled with much love!
Being so stuck in tradition has its drawbacks when life throws you surprises (as it is wont to do). For a long time, my mom did the turkey and my dad did the gravy. He was so proud of it, he wouldn't let anyone else learn how to make it. So when he had a stroke back in 1996, we all panicked since he no longer remembered how to make it. My mom eventually found the recipe his version had been based on, but it was something my sisters and I still had a hard time making for sentimental reasons. My dad passed away a week before Thanksgiving in 2001, and happily my mom was able to pass the tradition along to Andrew who, it seems, had been hiding a brilliant natural gravy-making talent and made fantastic gravy from the first time he tried (and I'm picky about my gravy!).
My pumpkin pies are made from real pumpkins that I cook and puree, and apparently I've got the recipe down pretty well, because the family and friends who taste them are always happy with the results. It's hard for me to know because I can't say I've ever had pumpkin pie that was store-bought, so I have nothing to compare it to. Plus, when you're the cook, it's always hard to be objective! But when I can enjoy it the next day with leftovers, I'm happy! It's a recipe my mom picked up somewhere and has been making as long as I can remember, and got passed along to me pretty early on - junior high, high school? One less thing for my mom to worry about. And really, looking back, I don't understand how she handled making a whole Thanksgiving dinner for our family and usually a few straggling friends as well. It's hard enough now with all 4 of my sisters and our significant others helping out!
Another of our traditions is the cranberry sorbet, from a recipe that was passed down from my grandmother, who learned it from her mother or grandmother. We make this for both Christmas and Thanksgiving, and for as long as I can remember, it was a family activity, from straining the boiled cranberries, to passing around the hand-cranked ice cream maker until it was frozen. This tradition has been passed along to Andrew and me, as we now have an electric ice cream maker (thank you wedding presents!). Each year as we make it, I can't help but admire the simplicity of the ingredients and the recipe, and daydream about how my ancestors made it for their holiday celebrations.
I think that's a lot of why Thanksgiving holds so much importance for me. A day set aside for all of us to celebrate what we have, who we're with, and that we've made it through another year. And in my family, we make it a collaborative effort, so that each person has added something to the feast, just like we all add to each others' lives. And in bringing those recipes alive each year, we're bringing to the table the memory of those who used to make them and enjoy them with us.
For these moments, and the loved ones in my life, I am grateful.