Thanksgiving is two days away, give or take a few frantic hours. I’ve got a schedule, lists, food piled on a prep table and packed so tight in the fridge that the bottom shelf is actually in the dark when you open the door.
Some things I fix for the big day I do because I like them, and/or the family likes them. Some things are just part of tradition dating from an unknown time, place or reason and continued because, well, mom did it that way.
Dad passed away many Thanksgivings ago, so his influence on the day is minimal. Though we figure he had something to do with the baked ziti. We’re not Italian, but many of his friends were, and someone must have served it at a party. Mom made it for years, using a black enamel baking pan. I have that pan, one of the few things I took from her kitchen when she passed away, and I still use it. Most of Thanksgiving winds up in disposable aluminum pans, but not the ziti.
One change I did make is the sweet potato casserole. Grandma mashed and whipped and served it with the toasty little marshmallows on top. Of course we all ate some to be polite. Hated it, but we ate it. I bake my sweet potatoes, scoop them, break them up in a baking pan and top with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and nutmeg. No mashing and no marshmallow puddles.
The appetizers are things mom liked and have not changed in forever. Spiced steamed shrimp, fresh veggies and onion dip, chopped liver and crackers. Totally unsophisticated in a world of amuse bouche, but it’s family food.
And there will be latkes, the Jewish potato pancakes. I do this because the Chanukah holiday is usually fairly close to Thanksgiving. It isn’t this year, but Mom always made them: a platter of gently crispy outside, soft and oniony inside latkes. She had to work fast; latkes are the last thing you make before dinner is served, and you have to hide them as you make them, or people come into the kitchen, drawn by the aroma of fried potato perfection, and eat them right out of the pan. Served with applesauce (an American affectation; purists insist on sour cream), they are never, ever a leftover.
This Thanksgiving, there will be several sets of dishes mixed together: mine, mom’s and grandma’s. We will all fit at the table this year, with only the need for one extra chair. But everyone we love will be there in food and memory.