I haven’t wanted to bring this up, but something strange happens
to people on Thanksgiving. I don’t mean that they suddenly change
their hair color and go on shopping sprees or anything like
I haven’t wanted to bring this up, but something strange happens to people on Thanksgiving. I don’t mean that they suddenly change their hair color and go on shopping sprees or anything like that. I mean that something compels otherwise reasonable people to make the same traditional family Thanksgiving stuffing recipe year after year, no matter what.
If you don’t believe me, ask my friend Kathy. Most of the rest of the year she successfully tries to avoid cooking. But each Thanksgiving she wakes up at dawn and spends hours, HOURS in the kitchen making Wild Rice Stuffing with Pearl Onions and Bacon Bits, a traditional family recipe that’s been passed down from mother to daughter for five generations.
“Why don’t you just sleep in and buy a container of instant stuffing mix?” I suggested one day over coffee.
But I could tell by the way she rolled her eyes and said, “but that’s not the way we do it,” that it would just be plain wrong.
Then there’s Kathleen. For as long as I’ve known her she has had a policy on adding handfuls of olives to her stuffing. Not because of any special flavor or because her family particularly likes them but because, as she put it simply, “that’s what my mother always did.” It doesn’t seem to matter that her mother actually hates olives and has no idea why she did it that way either.
But things could be worse. Due to a cruel twist of fate, my friend Carol’s husband insisted on bringing along his own family’s stuffing recipe when they got married. Since Carol didn’t want to bother making two different batches, she decided to merge them together, and now her Thanksgiving stuffing is a mostly inedible concoction of Brazil nuts, buttermilk, chopped onions and pineapple.
There are, of course, always the exceptions. My neighbor Sue refuses to make any stuffing at all because last Thanksgiving her family’s traditional “apple-almond-sage stuffing” recipe fell under suspicion. It started when she found out that one of her cousins follows a traditional recipe for apple-walnut-sausage stuffing that was given to her by a great-aunt who was known for her orange-walnut-fennel stuffing. I ask you, how do you get to the bottom of that?
However, we all know what’s clearly going on here. Thanksgiving stuffing, in a subtle way, connects each generation as few other foods can. Sure, over the years the recipes may change a bit, and you might not be able to explain exactly why you’re supposed to add a cup of crushed oysters to the bread crumbs, but that’s OK, everyone just goes along with it anyway.
Then, of course, there are people like me, whose traditional family stuffing recipe comes from the back of a crouton box. I’m not sure what this says about my family – except that I come from a long line of people who can’t cook. Or perhaps they’re just practical. Either way it’s not much of a legacy.
And, truth be told, I’m not sure what to do about it except to try to change the recipe. In fact, this year I think I’ll add a dash of vermouth and some dried cherries and maybe even an oyster or two.
And if my kids complain about it I’ll just calmly explain that it’s OK if they don’t like it. In fact, they don’t even have to eat it. The most important thing is that we’re creating a new family tradition to pass on together.
And then – well, then, we could all leave and go to a restaurant.
Debbie Farmer’s column appears every Monday.