We had a really nice Thanksgiving celebration yesterday at my cousin’s house. There was lots of family, lots of laughing, and lots of delicious food. All the leftovers we made off with went to work with Phil this morning so there’s no cold pumpkin pie for breakfast and no turkey sandwiches for me today, something that’s a little unusual. But I had my fill of turkey and all the trimmings yesterday and I’m feeling okay about bucking tradition and just eating a light lunch today. I am, however, sitting here enjoying some memories of what Thanksgiving was like when I was younger and rather than feeling melancholy about loved ones lost, I’m feeling pretty lucky to have so many wonderful holiday celebrations to look back on.
Growing up, our Thanksgiving looked pretty much the same every year and that’s just the way I liked it. We always ate the main meal at Gigi’s house (my grandmother on my mom’s side) and then we would walk the few blocks to Nana and Grandpa’s house (my grandparents on my dad’s side) to visit with the rest of the family. Most holidays were spent in this back-and-forth manner, main meal at Gigi’s then off to Nana’s for visiting and possibly more food. Or vice versa. Christmas had us back and forth all day – presents and sweet rolls in the morning at Nana’s, more presents and main meal at Gigi’s, then usually back to Nana’s for more visiting and more food if we could fit it in. When two sets of grandparents live in the same neighborhood, holidays and childhood in general are extra special.
Although some of the side dishes varied a bit over the years, for the most part we ate the same foods prepared from the same recipes, year after year at Gigi’s for Thanksgiving. That food is more familiar and comforting to me than any meal I can think of. When we lost my mom while my sister and I were still in college, the gathering up and saving of those recipes became important to me so Gigi gave me copies of them all for my own collection. This collection of Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes has become even more important now that both my mom and Gigi are gone. I have made my own version of our family Thanksgiving meal a handful of times over the last several years and although it’s not quite the same as sitting in my grandmother’s dining room, the familiar flavors instantly take me back there. I don’t feel the need to eat this exact food every year, but I am thankful to be able to recreate this meal every once in a while to reconnect with the past in such a meaningful way.
Here’s what would be on Gigi’s table for Thanksgiving most years:
brie and crackers
stuffing – some cooked in the bird, extra baked in a casserole dish.
mashed potatoes with cream cheese and sour cream
jellied cranberry sauce from a can
fresh cranberry and orange relish
sweet potato casserole with pecan streusel
layered jello salad – two fruit-filled layers of strawberry gelatin with a layer of sour cream between
relish tray filled with olives and pickles
choice of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or both
After dinner, instead of packing up leftovers to take home, we’d just leave all the food at Gigi’s house. The next day we would head back over at lunchtime, put everything back out on the kitchen table (rather than the formal dining room table), and enjoy the meal again. The cold turkey would be put on leftover rolls with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper and would be eaten alongside the reheated stuffing, potatoes, gravy, peas, casseroles, and cold salads. And of course it would be followed by the leftover pie. Somehow everything seemed to taste even better reheated that next day. These memories of leftovers are what I woke up with this morning and even without the turkey sandwiches and pie today, I’m feeling pretty full and content.