My Mother's Thanksgiving
Of course there is always turkey; its skin golden and and slightly crisp, its meat moist, juicy, and cooked to perfection. The chestnut colored gravy is never lumpy and has a hint of red wine. She doesn’t like what is the best part of the meal for the rest of us, the unparalleled apple, cranberry stuffing. It took years but we finally convinced her to make double the recipe so we wouldn’t fight over the minuscule portions. Side dishes are always the same: rice and sausage casserole, brussel sprouts with bacon and brown sugar whipped sweet potatoes. She always makes her own pumpkin pie and ends the meal with lefse, a potato crepe delicacy from her Norwegian homeland. For over four decades this has been my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner and we, her family and friends, have eagery awaited its annual debut.
I have been married nearly twenty-three years and only cooked Thanksgiving twice. The first time, in addition to my parents and siblings, I hosted a large contingent of my husband’s family who had flown across the country in celebration of the baptismal of our youngest son. My mother graciously wrote down her memorized recipes but failed to explain the exact measurements of “pinch” of this and a “dash” of that. The cafe-au-lait colored gravy was lumpy because she forgot to share her secret ingredient-a Norwegian browning and smoothing sauce. It wasn’t until I was about to pull the turkey out of the oven when she pointed out that I had cooked it up side down. My sister, bless her heart, explained that upside down cooking was all the rage--makes the breast meat more juicy. She was right, it did. But the bird looked pale and anemic on the outside. Its skin had not gotten the golden glow my mother’s always boasted. The dessert was perfect though because she had brought her famous pumpkin pie and delicious lefse.
The second time I was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner was a few years ago. My mother had spent the fall with an undiagnosed stomach ailment. She couldn’t eat without horrible bouts of nauseous and diarrhea. Test after test, they couldn’t figure it out. Her stomach ballooned like some poor starving child in Africa. We were worried and then even more so when she asked me to cook the meal. This time I made sure to cook the turkey right side up, and included drops of her norwegian magic potion to the gravy which turned out just the way she cooked. Even the pumpkin pie looked inviting.
But it was the lefse that offered the biggest challenge. When I asked Mom for her recipe she hemmed and hawed.
“Come on, you’re going to have to pass the tradition down sometime,” I argued.
“Lefse is very difficult to make. It requires special equipment and my recipe is written in Norwegian,” she explained. She offered to make it but it was clear she was too ill to do much of anything. Finally, in a moment of weakness she handed me a phone number.
“It’s the number for the Norwegian bakery where I order the lefse every year.”
“What? You don’t make it from scratch?”
“Are you kidding? Do you know how hard it is to get it right? Ask for IngerBritt, she knows me. She will take care of you.”
Now, Thanksgiving is a family affair. I make the rice casserole, my brother makes the sweet potatoes, and my son makes the pumpkin pie. Turkey is cooked by whom ever is hosting with detailed instructions of which side is the right side up. My mother is still in charge of the lefse though. Some traditions just can’t be passed down.
LeeAnn Ralph tells us how to make lefse. I haven’t tried it yet but..
Perhaps not all traditions are as benign as they seem. Yellow Thunder Woman explains why Thanksgiving is a national holiday she doesn’t celebrate. If you get a chance, check out her band Bastard Fairies. The music is odd and angry and beautiful. Not your mother’s music, that’s for sure!
And MoonWoman reminds us that gratitude is not the provenance of one culture, one community, one race, creed, or religion. Gratitude is universal. Check out www.grateful.org for everything you need to be in a state of gratitude. May this Thanksgiving season remind you of all that you have.