It has been a wonderful morning so far. There is no place that makes me happier, nor any place I would rather be than in our own home. I have been enjoying the presence of my Mother and Grandmothers as I bustle about our kitchen making lists of things needed for Thanksgiving dinner. I have been eager to harvest the secrets of their culinary skills from long yellowed recipe cards written in their own hand, which I can incorporate into the preparation of our Thanksgiving dinner. Grandma Annie and Grandma Esther, both excellent cooks in their day, have each encouraged me to use my mother Anita’s recipe for her mouth watering meat preparations and my mother smiles in response to their praise.
Yes, all three are here with me now, but only in the spirit filled sense of things. Oh, how much I loved these three women and how very thankful I am to have been blessed with the gift of their presence in my life throughout the years of my youth. My appreciation for all things domestic grew and grew as I watched them perform their household duties. They were all so different in how they approached life and as a result of seeing this, I realized that life was lived differently from household to household. No child is more blessed than the one who is surrounded by generations of family because we learn to love so many different personalities with differing perspectives from different generations. I was raised in the “children are to be seen but not heard” style of child rearing and as a consequence of this, I became very visually aware of how things were done. What else was I to do during my silent observation of the adult lives around me?
There is no time where I feel my Mothers and Grandmothers presence more than when I am cooking an old fashioned meal. We are two days away from Thanksgiving and we have decided to toss the turkey to the wayside because of the labor intensive job of cleanup after dinner with deboning the turkey! I have never liked that job. So much for tradition..
So, that being said, my husband and I tossed around ideas for dinner, including maybe just having an appetizer and wine tasting affair, but when all was said and done, my husband, a former farm boy with taste buds leaning towards a hearty fare on the holidays, made the final decision. We went with a couple of meats which is where my Mother reigned queen of cooking. She was renowned for her ability to cook meat into mouth watering, fall apart, tender deliciousness and we decided that this is what we would attempt to do in her honor and for our guests delight.
Our guests are modern, weight conscious people who eat what is healthy and what is “good for you” most of the year. However, occasionally, they love to indulge in a meal that rarely exists anymore on anyone’s table. We will have roasted meats, mashed red potatoes, sausage stuffing and a side of gravy. Yup! GRAVY! There was never a holiday in my growing up years where the table was absent the gravy. So, gravy it is! Meat? We decided on my all time favorite meal of my Mothers which was her delectable braised beef pot roast. We also decided to have a porchetta roast which is an Italian seasoned pork we learned to enjoy when my folks lived in northern Minnesota. I am making the beef roast and Al is presently deep in thought over a recipe he pulled out. His assignment is to make the porchetta roast. In retirement, he has fallen in love with the art of cooking! So, much to my relief, we share the kitchen and cooking chores.
This morning, I have braised the beef and it is gently simmering in its juices on our stove top. I like to make the meat ahead so the flavors have time to deepen for the holiday dinner. We will make the rest of the food the morning of Thanksgiving. Al wants the house filled with savory aromas when our guests arrive.
Holidays can be tough times for people who are dealing with the loss of loved ones, either from death or divorce or distance separating them. Life is ever changing and we are forced to roll with the change, but recipes from times gone by bring to us memories of comfort that filled the stomach, the mind and the heart. I am savoring the rich browning scent wafting through the house and with this comes a magic carpet ride to memories of my maternal elders, even as it is me who is the elder these days. The child that grew up surrounded by these women looms large within me. Thinking of times spent with them makes my heart swell with a bit of wistful wishing to revisit how things were all those long years ago. This roast cooking on the stove brings me memories of long ago meals created in the homes of our long departed families. Often, while foods were cooking over a long period of time on the old stove, the result was steamed up windows in our kitchen, and we salivated in anticipation of the dinner to come.
These memories then resurrected other memories of life lived then. Memories of home made jams topped with a hard circle of wax sitting under the cover of the jam jar as a way of preserving them…hence they were called preserves. I remember carrying a pail attached to a belt around my waist as I picked raspberries alongside Grandma Annie. I remember the pressure cooker at Grandma Esther’s house with its hissing staccato sound as the heavy pot pushed steam out from under the heavy valve cover.
Another memory pops up……a memory of a weaving loom and mental imagery of the shutters flying while Grandma Esther pushed her rag cloth back and forth between two tightly secured lines of string. As she pedaled away, the two rows of string would grasp the rag cloth and she would then push a long rod tight against the fabric with a smack of sound before stringing more cloth through and pressing down on the pedal once again. It became rhythmic in its sounds. I listened to the rhythm, of push, smack, pedal, push, smack, pedal! At the same time, I watched a beautiful pattern appear in the textile she was creating.
Parents these days think children need to be entertained, which is this generation’s way of doing things. I have no objection to the modern way of things, but I am living proof that children can develop an appreciation for the beauty of memories wrapped in ordinariness. The lives of the families in my youth were not filled with the ongoing razzamatazz of special events. Rather, they were filled with the slower pace of life where a person had time to cultivate the wonder of things where we would have time to ponder and think without a lot of noisy interruptions. I loved the order of things then.
I appreciate now, more than ever, remembering the respect that was expected from everyone. Respect for our elders, respect for our neighbors, respect for people in positions of authority. There was an order to things and it was this order that gave us a feeling of safety and security. We also lived in a time where we were free to roam. Our days laid out before us and all that we were expected to do after our chores were done was to “find something to do or I will give you something to do!” This proclamation from our elders was the best incentive ever made for children to get creative with their days.
Well, enough reminiscing for now. I need to check my roast and we need to do some prepping for our other holiday dishes. One of our sons is a Chef, and a very good one at that, but he does love his Mothers holiday meals. His fiancee’ has come to love them too. Our daughter and husband are the same way when it comes to hearty home cooked meals. They are always so appreciative of us and everything we do. Speaking of incentives, this spurs us on!
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! EVERY day is a day of Thanksgiving, and if it isn’t, it really should be! Be it ever so humble there is NO place like home! Praise God for our loving families where we first learned how to love the simple basic gifts of life like good home made meals that were created because of a love for our families and friends and with a nod of respect for our ancestors and heritage!