Fond memories of food at Thanksgiving
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was chaos in my house. We had 15 out-of-town guests who came for at least four days. All of us kids had to forfeit our beds and sleep on the basement floor.
One time, I found a cousin sleeping in a coat closet. He had gotten tired of hard floors and noisy surroundings and found his way to a calmer environment.
Our routine was set in stone. In the days preceding the holiday, the women baked pies — lots of pies. We had all of the classics, but my favorite was the chocolate pie with whipped topping.
On Thanksgiving, we ate the main meal sometime around 1 or 2 p.m. The adults got to sit at the dining room table, teens were at a card table in the living room and the younger cousins were at the kitchen table. All of the kids had to clear the tables after the main meal, and the men did the dishes. During this time, the women took a walk. I never understood this tradition, as the last thing I wanted to do after eating a big meal (and lots of chocolate pie) was to go out in the cold Chicago wind and take a walk.
In the late afternoon, football was watched, people napped, other people continued the wine consumption from earlier and some of us browsed the sale ads for our big shopping trip the next morning.
Our theme was "sunrise to sunset" in the biggest shopping excursion of the year. The men and children had to fend for themselves on Black Friday, and we typically finished off the day with card games.
On Saturday, we had the dreaded turkey soup. This was my grandmother's pride and joy, and I couldn't stand it. The smell was horrible, and the taste was somewhere between masking tape and liver (which was probably included in the ingredients). I was forced to eat it a few times, and then as I got older, I simply refused to take another bowl. This decision was cemented one year when my younger cousin, who had been forced to partake in the soup, threw it all up inside my dad's fancy car. It smelled even worse the second time!
Ahhhh the memories!
The adults and teens got to go out Saturday night to the annual visit to a historically or ethnically unique Chicago restaurant. We went to Greek town, Chinese restaurants, Medieval feasts and one very memorable visit to Tommy Gun's Garage in a sketchy neighborhood where our van broke down — with 13 people crammed inside.
So now I'm the grown-up, and although my holidays are celebrated with fewer people and less chaos, I still want to provide some great food. I was delighted to see that we had so many Thanksgiving-themed books. We have lots of cookbooks at the library; I could spend a whole year telling you about them and still not make it through our complete collection, so I thought I'd focus on just a few titles this time. After my experimentation with these books, we'll both be ready for the big day.
— "Thanksgiving: Delicious Recipes and Inspired Ideas for a Wonderful Family Festival" is edited by Lindley Boegehold. This is a slim little soft cover that packs a punch.
It begins with a brief narrative on the holiday, then steps right into the ideas for setting a pretty table. I loved the recipe for the Shrimp and Corn Bisque. It was cold the day I made it, and it warmed us all up quite nicely. I added fresh thyme, and it was lovely.
The plum pie at the end looks amazing. I haven't made it yet, but it's on the list.
— Who can pass up a cookbook from Williams-Sonoma? Not me. I think part of it is their beautiful photographs of the foods. In "Thanksgiving Entertaining" from Williams-Sonoma and Lou Seibert Pappas, we get scrumptious photos and lots more.
My kids really liked the Cheddar Chive Biscuits. They reminded us a little of those yummy biscuits at Red Lobster. I also was intrigued with a recipe for Mashed Butternut Squash with Browned Butter and Sage. I'm not a big fan of sweet potatoes, and I'm thinking that this may be a nice alternative.
— Some helpful information may be found in the beginning of "The New Thanksgiving Table: An American Celebration of Family, Friends, And Food" by Diane Morgan. There are foods that I just don't know much about. I rarely cook with parsnips, persimmons and chestnuts, and the brief explanations of what to look for and how to cook and keep them was particularly useful.
One of my favorite recipes in this book was the Sausage Stuffing with Mushrooms and Carmelized Onions. Just looking at the picture makes my mouth water, and it was easy to prepare. I like that it suggests making it beforehand to reheat once the turkey is removed from the oven.
— Last is "Crazy About Pies: More Than 150 Sweet & Savory Recipes for Every Occasion" by Krystina Castella, because what is Thanksgiving without pie?
The selection of recipes in this book is amazing, ranging from mincemeat to grasshopper pie and from salted caramel ice cream pie to the classic apple. I am particularly interested in making the Chocolate Pudding Pie with Chocolate Covered Strawberry topping.
Wherever you plan to spend the day, my wish for you is spending time with people and food that you love.
Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.