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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 17, 2011
Please, I implore you, resist trendiness
By Jo E. Prout
Chocolate should never be served tainted with bacon. There, I said it and saved countless holiday parties and family gatherings.
My Depression-era grandmother, who made lovely chocolate cakes, might well have agreed with me. Chocolate cake with bacon-flavored chocolate frosting must have been a gruesome mistake in a backwoods kitchen.
Unfathomably, that combination has become a rage with foodies. Magazines, new cookbooks, Facebook links, and newspaper recipes are tossing good sense to the wind and touting bacon-flavored desserts.
What’s the definition of a foodie? A person who likes food and knows about food and its many incarnations, I suppose. Someone who may or may not be trained in food preparation.
Well, that describes all of us, doesn’t it? After all, we all eat, don’t we? At least, we like to eat, if we’re so lucky, which is what Thanksgiving is mostly about in my house.
I won’t be popular taking such a strong stand against the bacon frosting, but I’ll do it for my close friend, the chocolate. I know that adding bacon to every dish is trendy it’s savory, it’s full-flavored, it goes with “everything” but holidays are about sharing, remembering old times, and smiling in anticipation of the upcoming harvest and holy-day dinners.
If I’m served pig-in-a-pastry, I won’t smile, I won’t share, and I won’t fondly remember the occasion. Please, I implore you, resist trendiness.
Instead, shift your focus to the meaning behind the holidays and the traditions that created them. Or, ignore me as my own children do, resist the traditions, watch Charlie Brown, and focus, instead, on the food.
With no family nearby, and a Mexican father who didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving until high school, our kids have gone with what they know; they call Thanksgiving Day by the more descriptive moniker, Feast Day.
“Mom, there are only nine days until Feast Day!” my daughter, Clara, informed me. “Get cooking!”
The joke’s on her; as vegetarians, no food on our table needs hours of preparation.
Getting everything we deem essential to the holiday table at the same time is always a big job, though. In recent years I’ve begun to think of Feast Day as Chore Day, with the joke on myself for being stuck with all the work.
Girlhood Thanksgivings spent with second and third cousins in the hills of Arkansas at my great-grandmother’s farmstead an old general store between nowhere and nowhere else on a gravel road that cut through her farm fields and streams left happy, vivid holiday memories. Freezing on the enclosed, but unheated, porch-turned-second bedroom, packed four to a bed; raisin pie, mincemeat pie, cornbread dressing, and morning-after fry-ups with dozens of fresh eggs fried in sausage drippings; and running to the outhouse with a flashlight until the men put in Grandma’s indoor plumbing made Thanksgiving an interesting and lovely time.
The people are gone now, so few still living, with the first-name-only cousins scattered across the country.
I spent Thanksgivings and most Christmases during college at my other grandmother’s house, six hours away. My fiancé, who became my husband, went with me for years both then, and after school ended. Her home was a haven from deadlines, studies, responsibilities, and family stresses.
No matter which cousins, siblings, parents, or teens had unresolved issues between them, everyone who could make it would come to Grandma’s house each holiday. Her house was our home.
She loved cooking for her family, and Thanksgiving was a chance for her to stuff us full. Her Feast Day was no chore, but a labor of love and gratitude for her blessings of children.
Unlike the Southern family, Grandma was technically a Northerner, which meant that she made bread dressing, not cornbread dressing. My parents, on those few occasions we couldn’t go to one of the grandmas’, would debate which dressing was proper on a Thanksgiving Day table. My mother always won and she made cornbread dressing.
She softened enough toward my father, though, to make him a small dish of that nasty-looking bread dressing. It was slimy, congealed, full of visible giblet chunks and long, crunchy crusts. My sister and I avoided looking at it after the first glance.
We also avoided my mother’s larger dish of moistened but crumbly mush with too much sage. As I’ve seen with my own children, dressing is not always a child’s favorite food.
By the time I went to Grandma’s house during college, I avoided the dressing and the turkey, too. There were plenty of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, two vegetables, and black olives to tide me over until she served her blueberry pie and her chocolate cake.
Her cake was wonderful. Now that she’s gone, I sometimes consider adding a chocolate cake to the menu, but Chore Day still weighs on me and I leave the cake for other occasions.
Grandma wasn’t as rigid as I, and she probably would have jumped on the trendy bacon-wagon, too. She loved to feed us, and, if the family wanted savory-flavored frosting, she would have provided it. But, hers was the bread-dressing recipe my sister, mother, and I dreaded. Remembering her quirks, I’m sure Grandma would have added a few giblets to the frosting in the spirit of “waste not, want not.”
My kids don’t have big family gatherings from which to draw colorful memories. I probably mourn more for my own passed relatives than for my kids’ future reminiscences.
My children’s enthusiasm for black olive fingernails and mounds of buttery mashed potatoes, followed by all the pumpkin pie they can eat made from pumpkins grown in their own garden makes them pretty happy, and for that I am thankful. I might even make one of Grandma’s blueberry pies, with frozen berries instead of the economical canned fruit she used, and pass on a few of her stories while we share our blessings on Feast Day.