Thankful for the Wisdom of Others

There's something infinitely soothing about knowing you're about to spend the whole day cooking. Well, infinitely soothing for those of us who really love to cook anyway. I know that I, for one, am looking forward to the act of preparing for the big Thanksgiving feast - even though I'm not the one who will be roasting the turkey, making the stuffing or the mashed potatoes nor many of the other wonderful, traditional dishes that grace Thanksgiving tables every year. But that's okay.

As much as I love being the one in charge (heck, I'd cook the whole thing and have all my friends over for it if I could, but I guess that wouldn't be proper, eh?), it's also liberating to not be the one calling the shots. Instead, I can focus on the few dishes I am in charge of - this year, it's the ubiquitous green bean casserole (only a homemade version this time) and a delicious-looking take on Brussels sprouts from Nicole Stich, the author of the beautiful blog (and now book!), Delicious Days. Later on, I'll make my own versions of the stuffing and cranberry sauce, turkey and other trimmings that I didn't make for this first meal. Who says you can only eat Thanksgiving foods on Thanksgiving? Why not enjoy them other times? They're still seasonal in December! Most of them would be fabulous by themselves, alongside roasted chicken or fish (miso green beans anyone?) and would even make perfect winter meals for tucking in with a bottle of wine and good friends (or even a good book).

Besides, I love stuffing and cranberry sauce - it seems a shame to only enjoy them once a year, and yet that's the only time I make or have them. For the stuffing, I want to try this recipe. And the cranberry sauce? I'm thinking of incorporating a few local ingredients - like ginger and lilikoi (passionfruit). Besides, many of the bloggers I love will be posting what they've made for Thanksgiving on or after the big day (at least if they are "slackers" like me) - why not try and enjoy them now? I'll have the freedom of playing around with cranberry sauce, stuffing and all the other classic dishes to my heart's content - and they don't even all have to go together! Plus, then I get all the leftovers I want, which everyone knows is the best part.

But something happened this year while I was out fighting the masses at the grocery store, buying all of the ingredients I needed. Something that really made me think about Thanksgiving itself. I had picked up one of those tin, disposable pie plates for LB. LB always makes his mother's apple pie for Thanksgiving - it's become one of our own traditions for the holiday, and he does a great job at it. But we only own one pie plate and there will be 12 or more people at the feast this afternoon, so he wanted to make two. The pie plates were in my small basket, along with a myriad of other things I had forgotten or couldn't find my first trip to the store (because, of course, this was my 3rd trip). As I was grabbing a plastic bag to place the collection of small, compact Brussels sprouts I had chosen in, an older woman reached out to pick one up at the same time. We both had our hands out, and she insisted that I go first - "youth before age," was how she put it. I thanked her and pulled my bag from the roll.

And then she said something that took me by surprise:

"Oh, you actually know how to make a pie! I'm so glad!"

I told her that yes, I do, and that I loved to cook. But also that the tins were actually for my husband, who was making an apple pie for the Thanksgiving table. She told me she thought too many young people didn't know how to cook anything from scratch anymore, and she was glad that some were still out there that did. That statement saddened me. Are there really so many people out there that don't know how that this elderly woman believes that young people will only go to the grocery store to buy a pie as opposed to buying the simple ingredients needed to actually make one? I guess so. I forget sometimes, in my world of food-love that not everyone avoids fast food restaurants or likes to cook from scratch...nor even believes that they have the time to do such a thing.

I didn't really learn to cook from my grandmother or my mother per se, as I've mostly taught myself over the last few years (and there have certainly been ups and downs) when I first had both the opportunity and the desire to learn. But they gave me advice along the way, shared their recipes with me, and more importantly, instilled an appreciation for simple food...crisp radishes and baby green onions in ice-water, canned pears and homemade jams and jellies, and the age-old family secrets for amazing fried okra. Even more than that, they helped me to not be afraid of the kitchen - as a child, I was enlisted to collect fresh eggs from our chickens, help snap peas from the garden, shuck corn, peel peaches and pears for canning, roll fresh egg noodles for stroganoff, and of course, prepare for the many Thanksgivings we had at both their houses over the years. They're the reason I yearn to go back to farm life in some ways - a big garden, fruit trees, fresh eggs - and they're the reason I want to learn to cook from scratch. Because that's the kind of food I grew up with and that's the kind of food I want to eat. It's also the kind of food I want my kids to eat too - when or if I have them.

Standing there in the grocery store, I suddenly wanted to ask the woman to share all of her wisdom with me - did she have any recipes that she loved? Any kitchen tips or home remedies she swore by? What did she love to make from scratch? What was she making for Thanksgiving and how many times had she made it before? Was there someone in her family who would be carrying it on for her when she could no longer? Not wishing to seem like some nosy grocery store freak, I wished her a happy Thanksgiving and hoped silently that she did. And I said a quiet thank you for the people in my life that have passed things along to me.

Many of us cannot be home with the rest of our family for this holiday, but we can carry our family with us and the traditions we have made with them to our tables no matter the far corners of the globe where we are today. Even if we're not making the same dishes that aunt Dottie or Grandpa Joe made when we were children, and we're now making our own traditions, we carry their stories and the memories with us no matter where we are today. I have been fortunate in that my grandmother gave me many of her own and her mother's recipes, and my mother now loves to cook as much as I do - but I'm also learning from the wisdom of friends and friend's families - people who are willing to impart a bit of their history, their recipes, and their experience with a novice cook such as myself. And then there are you, dear bloggers, who share so much of your thoughts, recipes and yourselves on the internet with me and with so many others. I hope this dissemination of information never ceases - may we all someday know how to make a pie from scratch and learn something from someone we love so that we can carry on for them.

I hope you all have a wonderfully delicious Thanksgiving, no matter where you are.

15 comments from you:

Natashya said...

I think if people realized how easy it is to make a pie from scratch, they might change their mind about their baking abilities.
It is sad that we as a society are so far removed from what we eat.
I think the trend is changing back though, I have hope!
Have a lovely holiday, enjoy!

Julie said...

I think there is more of a trend towards homemade pies and cooking things from scratch then there was at one time but the majority of people rely on things like frozen pie crust and other convenience foods even when cooking Thanksgiving dinner. And you're right about so many people not having a family history of good homemade food. My mother-in-law is a crack pie maker and I ate her pies yesterday surrounded by family, so I consider myself lucky.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Michelle!

Nate-n-Annie said...

Beautiful post.

How'd the green bean casserole come out?

glutenfreeforgood said...

Michelle -- what a beautifully written post. I so agree with you about sharing cultural cooking wisdom! We gain so much from sharing with one another. My son made a similar version of the chorizo stuffing you linked to. I put him in charge of stuffing and gravy and he made a wonderful mixture of GF cornbread, sausage, green chile, and assorted other ingredients. No recipe, just creative juices. It was wonderful. I love it when everyone pitches in and adds to the mix. My kitchen was full of people, having fun, telling stories, cooking up a feast. No pies this year. I made a huge apple crumble. It was such a hit that it may become the tradition. (And between you and me, it was EASY.)

Debinhawaii said...

A wonderful post and so true. Although I am not a pie maker myself, it always astounds me when people don't try and cook at least some of their meals. Hopefully we will continue to see more and more people in general cooking and enjoying it in this economy and that woman's perspective on the younger generation will continue to be changed.
Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Catch up soon?

Michelle said...

Natashya, I have hope too - I see hundreds of bloggers all the time who are making food and writing about it, so I know they're out there!

Julie, I feel lucky too. And I think even if we don't have our own history, then it's time to start making it ;)

Nate-N-Annie, thanks! It was great - I'll definitely be making it again!

Melissa, me too. Your son's stuffing sounds fabulous, and I love the way it comes together. I want to start having soup parties too, for the very same reason - everyone brings an ingredient and we all make it together, and so it is different every time! Sounds like you had a lovely Thanksgiving! And who needs pie when you have apple crumble?

Deb, I'm not really a pie maker much myself either (LB is!), but I think more than pies, it's the tradition or even the thought of making something with only love and whole ingredients. I did have a good one! I hope you did too! And yes, let's catch up soon!

Christie @ fig & cherry said...

I have no doubt your side dishes will outshine the main event!

As for green beans with miso, mmmmmm, fab idea!

Sending you good wishes for thanksgiving from Down Under :)

Anonymous said...

for those of you wondering about how good the green bean casserole came out.....

It was fabulous!!!!


angelica said...

Sad but true -- a lot of people don't really know how to cook and bake anymore. Like my neighbours, who insist on eating only instant-noodles and frozen pizzas. I seem to be almost the only one cooking from scratch, which shows in the lack of love (and cleaning) in the kitchen...

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

"as a child, I was enlisted to collect fresh eggs from our chickens, help snap peas from the garden, shuck corn, peel peaches and pears for canning, roll fresh egg noodles for stroganoff, and of course, prepare for the many Thanksgivings we had at both their houses over the years."---This is what I want for my kids, too.

Joie de vivre said...

Sadly, I think young people who cook are in the minority. :(

Michelle said...

Christie, Awww thanks!! I'll have to make those beans one of these days!

LB, I love you.

Angelica, well at least they have you to make and share things with them occasionally ;)

Sally, ha ha - me too, me too!

Joie de vivre, I know, but I still have hope that this will change some day and I truly do think there is a movement that is slowly gaining momentum to change it (in my heart, anyway!).

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Yep, that's me. Thanksgiving in Seattle I made the cranberries and researched turkey on the grill for Jason; now I'm home looking to make a turkey dinner just for Gorn & I!

It is easy to forget that there are so many who probably think boiling water is cooking - we just spend all our time with foodies who love to cook.

sumathi said...

I am so happy, you believe in cooking from the scratch. that's the way it is healthy and good

Anonymous said...

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