(Overly) Sweet Thanksgiving Memories

In our family, like many other American families, Thanksgiving is a feasting holiday. The buffet is endless and we eat until the thought of one more bite makes us cringe. We eat until it hurts….

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When I was growing up Thanksgiving was at Grandma’ house. Grandpa may have paid the mortgage and had the soapbox, but it was Grandma’s house. She continued to care for her grown children, the grandchildren, the gardens and the pets. She was always buzzing around, straightening the newspapers and crossword books, vacuuming the floors and sweeping the porch, all while laughing with a daughter or friend on the phone. She often had visitors, either gathered in the living room with its paneled walls, shag carpet and sheer green curtains, or around the old wooden kitchen table with the orange trimmed table cloth which she and grandpa bought from a furniture wholesaler in one of the Carolinas.

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The house was never lonely. Grandma relished in company and we savored her safety and warmth. As busy as the house always was, the morning hours belonged to her. She would rise early and I would listen to the gentle shuffle of her plastic-bottomed slippers move down the hall and into the kitchen. I too was an early riser, but I never disturbed grandma on these mornings. It was far more comforting to lie in my sleeping bag and listen.

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She began her day by starting a pot of coffee. I could hear the pop of a plastic lid on a medal can, the sound of pouring water and then a few moments later the percolation. Grandma would then strike her thumb over the top of a lighter and take a long deep inhale on her cigarette as she sat down in the corner chair, tucked next to the stove. This was her chair, a small, wooden respite. I quietly listened as she made her first exhale, waiting for the laborious clearing cough which always followed. If I close my eyes I can still hear the distinct tone and rhythm of her cough. It made me feel safe, even happy. It was my grandma’s sound, unique and all her own. It’s strange now knowing I found comfort in what was the beginnings of her debilitating emphysema.

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I wish I knew what grandma was thinking in those early hours. Perhaps she was planning her day, making a list of things to do, contemplating her life or worrying about her children. Or maybe, she sat with her mind empty, taking a moment in time all for herself. I suspect, even if I could ask her about those early morning sit downs, I wouldn’t dare. They are better left untouched.

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Eventually, grandma would stir. Whether she sat for five minutes or a half hour, it was the creak of chair legs, pouring of coffee and cracking of eggs that signaled it was time to rise. And this is how every morning Grandma brought her house to life.

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Thanksgiving was no different. The festive day began the same; only instead of bacon and eggs, grandma would busy herself with a turkey. Grandma’s children would arrive early in the day to help prepare the stuffing, potatoes and desserts. They would clean the house, wash the china and set the table, all before returning to their own homes to ready us grandchildren and prepare the remaining side dishes. The dessert table was adorned with homemade pies – pecan, pumpkin and an apple crisp – and the favorite dessert, made by both mom and grandma as we could never have enough, grandma’s cinnamon rolls.

IMG_8794Then, there was the sweet potato casserole, otherwise known as candied yams. A brown gloppy mess slopped all over a bright white, CorningWare dish and always sitting center stage. The yams, once a bright orange, dulled under loads of brown sugar and marshmallows rendering a sticky, gooey, but oddly still runny, overly sweet, brown sauce. I’m sure there is more to this dish; although I couldn’t tell you. I’ve never asked. I never will. I was 33 years old before I realized that all sweet potato recipes didn’t induce a gag reflex. Now,  I quite enjoy them baked, roasted or fried with cumin or sea salt. But never sugar. Ever.

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For my family, however, they were never sweet enough. The more marshmallows the better. Each Thanksgiving my family would fill their plates with a few pieces of turkey, a spoonful of sides and a heaping mound of sweet potatoes. My dislike of this dish was certainly an anomaly and as such could not be accepted. You’ll grow to love them. You just need to give them a chance. Perhaps this will be the year. And so it would go, every year, as a spoonful of this vile slop was placed on my dish and I dutifully choked it down.

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When I was 26, Mike and I hosted Thanksgiving in our small, city apartment. It was the first time a grandchild had ever held a holiday celebration. It’s one of those moments in life that carries an unspoken gravity – the metamorphosis of tradition. Mike and I were anxious and exhilarated. We had the turkey and stuffing in the oven, fresh cranberry sauce on the stove and apple pies set to cool. Grandma was bringing pecan pie. Mom was in charge of the dinner and cinnamon rolls, and my sister made the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Aunt Barb was bringing the green bean casserole. No one was asked to bring sweet potatoes.

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As dinner rolled around, the table was set, the wine poured and the turkey carved. Spoons clanked on dishes as the platters were passed around the table. Nods of approval and lips smacking on fingers were the early indication of success. I was in my glory and feeling quite grown-up, and then I spotted it. The CorningWare dish. It was not invited, yet there it was making its way around the table. It’s not Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes, they said. I grudgingly smiled and passed them along. I can accept them at my table, but not on my plate. I was a grown-up now after all.

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Since that transitional holiday, many Thanksgivings have come to pass without a permanent host home. We held several at our various dwellings, Mom and Aunt Barb have also taken it on, and sometimes we’ve even traveled. The menu has also changed with various stuffing recipes joining the mix, a new, more savory squash dish, and an overnight brine for the turkey. Gluten free dinner rolls found their way to the table last year. The canned cranberry sauce was replaced by my fresh and zippy recipe and the desserts have reduced in number. The place settings dwindled, only to grow in number once again with new faces and tiny voices. But one thing remains….those stinking candied yams.

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I realize that sweet potatoes are a beloved staple for many, but to this day, I still can’t stomach them. What about you? Is there a Thanksgiving or holiday dish that is rooted in your family that you secretly or openly despise?

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Well, as you can tell from the photos, I am not sharing that treasured family recipe today (or likely ever). Instead, here’s a rustic sour cherry pie, which you’ll find on our table this year. And these aren’t just any cherries, these are the sour cherries we picked over the summer at Tina’s farm in the Finger Lakes. It seemed only fitting that a piece of what made our year so memorable, and of which we are truly grateful, is on our Thanksgiving table.

Print this recipe: Rustic Sour Cherry Pie

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We’ll be back Wednesday or Thursday with a special holiday drink. Until then, if you’re preparing for the big feast, best of luck and most importantly, have fun and savor the memories – even the ones that make you gag. They just might someday put a smile on your face. After all, it’s not really the food on the table, but the company with which it’s shared and the memories that are made. Cheers.

 

17 thoughts on “(Overly) Sweet Thanksgiving Memories

  1. Debra says:

    Such wonderful memories of your grandmother, Kristy. You really made me miss my own grandmother–very sweet thoughts, and so many center around the family holidays. We have those crazy candied yams every year as well, my friend. They are just SO sweet. LOL! But there are members of my family that would revolt if they didn’t make it to the table. I really loved reading this blog post, Kristy. I hope that Thanksgiving Day is very special for you as you gather with friends and family. I am sure you’re savoring these times in anticipation of going off on your family adventure. ox

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  2. ChgoJohn says:

    Very nice post, Kristy. Amazing the things we remember. For me, it’s the smells and sounds of the holidays — and the laughter. Oh, how I remember the laughter that lasted long after the dessert dishes had been cleared.
    I, too, have tart cherries from summer that I’ve saved. Normally I make a pie in January to remind me that winter will pass soon enough. Maybe this January’s pie will be a little bit more rustic. Thanks, for the inspiration. Happy Thanksgiving to you and to all of the chefs in residence at your house. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen says:

    Such a lovely post about your family traditions. We never ate sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving when I lived at home. When I’ve gone to other homes for the holidays they usually have that sweet casserole you describe…marshmallows are for dessert in my book. Now I don’t think I could resist a piece of your cherry pie.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. chris says:

    Loved reading about your (too) sweet memories, and that pie looks fantastic! At my house, sweet potatoes are a must as well, though my mom does them with apples and syrup rather than with marshmallows. This year I’ll also be trying something new: a butternut squash & spinach lasagna 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Marilyn Oxby says:

    I miss her so much!!!! This post is exactly why I miss having Family not just at Thanksgiving but all the time. It comes from having grown up with three other siblings and two parents, who while not perfect–who is, emphasized the importance of family coming first and family being there for each other no matter what. That’s why I tried and tried to get the four sibling families together again while grandma and grandpa were here. I wasn’t successful and was mad because it hurt so much each time but it was worth the effort. It’s why I have fallen apart inside over Auntie Karen being gone and nobody can understand it because we hadn’t been “close” for years. You find that in the end it doesn’t matter; only the love matters. You wrote a wonderful piece; I have been counting my Blessings. I will not, however, give up my Candied Yams! And why did you leave out the year you tried to make them more palatable by dipping them in KETCHUP?!! That was gag inducing 😛. I have yet to make giblet gravy and I’m sure if G Pat and G Bill were here they would be at my stove making it so it would find a place on the table😊. Call me when you have a few minutes. Wondering if you still need us on Sunday. Love you. Xoxo

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    >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. thecompletebook says:

    Kristy, what a beautiful read, thank you for sharing your familys thanksgiving tradition with us and your pie looks wonderful. I love sweet potatoes but not with sugar or anything of the sorts.
    Have a beautiful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hotlyspiced says:

    This is so beautifully written, Kristy and I have loved reading about your family’s Thanksgiving celebrations. I have to say, I don’t like the sound of sweet potatoes combined with sugar and marshmallows – I have a much more savoury palette. Your sour cherry pie looks and sounds fabulous and I do hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. travelsandtomes says:

    Love your memories, your sense of family and tradition, and your beautiful pie! About sweet potatoes–I love them without prejudice. Baked, fried, spiced with cayenne and cumin, buttered and sugared. All good. Our Thanksgiving table usually has a buttered and sugared version on it (tweaked from an even richer and sweeter recipe my grandmother used), which my husband loves . . . but will only eat as dessert. (As a vegetable on the table, it disturbs him. As a dessert, it’s his favorite. Makes sense to me!)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. sallybr says:

    If there is one thing that the immigrant loses, I would say is the tradition of holidays. They are simply never the same once you leave home. Now, keep in mind, I am not bitter about it. I acknowledge the fact, and move on. But the holidays are a distant memory for me, and for 20 some years I’ve learned to embrace new ones, or live the common ones with a different tone. Christmas and New Year’s Eve used to be a time to lay by the beach, serious suntanning. Not anymore. Thanksgiving, my favorite American holiday, is also new to me and as much as I love it, I have zero memories of childhood associated with it

    So I say yes, embrace it, love it, cherish it – every single second of it

    the future, you never know what will bring… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cecilia Mary Gunther says:

    That was a GREAT piece of writing. I loved reading about your grandmother and her sounds of the morning.. wise girl you were to let her have her time alone. Every woman needs time alone. Your pie looks divine but our cherry trees refused us even one cherry this year. Maybe next year. i am not even going to comment on the sweet icky stuff.. sounds awful.. c

    Liked by 1 person

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