I remember fondly, as a child growing up in Michigan, my family’s gatherings. But the one I most remember is Thanksgiving. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents and anyone that happened to be alone on that day would gather together in my grandparents’ tiny home in Findlay, OH. We’d watch the Macy’s Day Parade on television followed by a full day of football. We’d laugh and play and make plans for our Christmas gathering. The star of the day, however, was the food! Oh the food!
The enormous turkey would be stuffed with oyster dressing and put into the oven the night before to roast on the lowest of settings. To this day, I’ve never tasted a more tender, sweet piece of turkey than what my grandmother, Nellie, made in that tiny stove of hers. She would hand-peel steaming hot boiled potatoes (a method I never fully understood the justification of until I was much older) just as the sun was rising for her secret recipe potato salad. Every palate would be sated. She had candied yams, mashed potatoes, ham, turkey, multiple types of stuffing, and the list went on and on ending with a stack, yes, an eyeball high stack of pies!
They say baking is an exact science and as a baker I agree to a great extent. But the rules that govern baking didn’t seem to affect my great-grandmother. Hazel Gardner was a tough broad. At a mere 4’10” and 90 lbs. dripping wet, she terrified every member of our family and I suspect most of the Midwest. Her Siamese cat, Poocheye, was probably the only living creature who didn’t shrink in her presence. But good golly could that lady bake! In her cracker box sized kitchen, she turned out my absolute favorite dessert — Sugar Pie. That’s right. Sugar Pie.
It was a slightly sweet, creamy custard pie in the most perfect of flaky crusts. Great-grandma said it would cure everything. She made it for everyone who became ill. She made it for family gatherings. What she didn’t do was write down the recipe. Doh! I set out to harness her power over germs and learn how to make the delicious pie. Well, that was my intention. It took great-grandma a blink of an eye to tell me the recipe as I sat on the floor, notepad and pencil at the ready. But I sat flummoxed. She used words like “pinch” and “dash” and “until it looks right.” What? How did a “pinch” translate into teaspoons? And what exactly was “right” about the way the conglomeration looked?
No, I was never able to recreate my great-grandmother’s pie. And I could never duplicate those soft, quiet moments with my great-grandmother either. It was like a shooting star. You had to be there to fully comprehend the moment.
So, here’s to friends, family, Thanksgiving, food and the memories they create!
What is your fondest Thanksgiving memory?