Thanksgiving – Context and Cooking
When Thanksgiving rolls around, most people start thinking about family. I start thinking about cooking and baking. The farmer’s markets are bursting with colour and flavour. I get excited about trying to reinvent the traditional turkey and trimmings and at the same time know that I have to make a few family favourites (herbed garlic butter green beans) to keep everyone happy.
The first Thanksgiving I spent with Thom’s family was the year his mother died. It had only been a month or so and we all gathered at the cottage – her cottage – to share a meal and bring in the dock from the lake. I arrived around noon with a pie in hand and was asked by Thom’s sister “Do you know how to cook a turkey?” “Yes,” I replied, not having done so in a number of years. “Great!” she said, as she left the kitchen. I quickly figured out it was up to me to cook dinner.
I didn’t know what people liked or disliked food wise, but I knew that the family was all feeling emotional. They needed a safe, reliable, easy, and comforting Thanksgiving meal. I found most of what I needed in the fridge and drove into town for the rest.
The meal was good – not great, but good. My imagination was full of all the things I could have done to heighten the meal, to make it more gourmet, but as I sat at the table and listened to dozens of stories about Thom’s mother – including how she’d never cooked a turkey in her life – I realized that my fancy gourmet ‘upgrades’ would have gotten in the way. This family needed a warm meal that stimulated conversation about a person, not about the food. Creating a meal that felt familiar and comforting was more important than showing them how great I was in the kitchen.
Since that Thanksgiving, I’ve had lots of opportunity to cook and bake elaborate dishes for Thom’s family. I think I’ve managed to impress them more than a few times, but I always think about the context for my cooking. Is this an opportunity to try something new complicated? Or is simple and homey best for the occasion. Do I need to make sure as many family members as possible come to the cottage because it’s freezing and we need to take the dock out? If the gathering is an event, should the food be the star, or a supporting ensemble member in the back holding a spear?