Tag Archives: Holidays

Thanksgiving Traditions

What’s on your Thanksgiving menu? In the United States, turkey is traditional. Various sides begin with stuffing (my mother called it dressing) flanked by macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, and other green or yellow vegetables. Then for dessert, there’s traditional pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Or perhaps, apple or pecan pie. Add a dollop of vanilla ice cream and bring on the hot coffee or tea.

Why do we call these foods traditional? Because they’ve been around a long time. How long? Definitely not the focus of the first Thanksgiving dinner which originated during fall harvest four centuries ago. According to the Smithsonian, venison and wild fowl were the mainstays. Sides aren’t mentioned, but corn seemed to be in abundance. And forget the pies, the Smithsonian says.

What? Pastry has been a favorite since ancient Greeks, and Queen Elizabeth I is credited with baking the first cherry pie. The American Pie Council says pies (first spelled pyes) were a tradition of the first English settlers to the Colonies, but the Smithsonian says they were absent from the Pilgrims’ table in 1621.

My mother, a descendant of French Huguenots who migrated to America to escape religious persecution, made her pie crusts with lard. She favored mincemeat, pumpkin, and apple fillings but made a variety depending on the tastes of who would be coming to dinner.

Dinner. The Pilgrims celebrated for three days, but dinner was at our house was at high noon in California, USA. Papa settled himself at the table laden with food, and lifted his watch, the chain firmly attached to his pocket, five minutes early. Perhaps he and Mama had a hidden signal, or perhaps from years of this tradition, she immediately called everyone to the dining room. The adults sat at the table—all but Mama. She stood behind the chairs with the children. At precisely twelve, Pacific Standard Time, Papa slid his watch back into his pocket and said the blessing over the food. After the Amen, mothers filled plates for their children to take to the kitchen table. Teens carried plates heaped with food to the living room or front porch, depending on the weather. Mama hustled back and forth to the kitchen refilling serving bowls with food. By the time she sat at the table with her children and their spouses, they were ready for dessert. Off she went again, carrying slices of pie to those who sat while she served.

After dinner, the women washed and dried the dishes and swept crumbs from the linoleum floors. Some of my brothers and my sisters’ husbands went outside to smoke—another of Papa’s house rules. Long before cell phones and video games, Thanksgiving was a day of food and conversation for adults, games for the kids. Lots of laughter. No TV—we couldn’t afford one—so the crowd thinned in late afternoon to go home and watch football in black and white.

That evening, long before home microwaves, Mama warmed leftovers on the kitchen stove. When the dishes were done, she boiled water, made herself a cup of tea, and rested.

 

 

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Noble Nuts

shelled-walnuts-cashews-pixabayChomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.

 

At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.

At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.

As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.

This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.

 

walnut-cracker-basket-pixabymixed-nuts-bowl-pixabayMy father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.

I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.

peanuts-pixaby

 

 

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