Celebrating Thanksgiving

pumpkin in snow!It’s so accepted these days to have all your Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving but it’s hard for me to join the holiday rush.

I want to savor Thanksgiving with all the orange pumpkins and colorful gourds and our family. Our Thanksgiving table centerpiece is built from shades of fall with some dried seed heads from the garden I gathered in warmer weather.

This year I’m sticking to the Thanksgiving theme indoors but the overripe pumpkins had to go. We have cold weather and snow and more of it as the days pass. It’s nonstop snow today. The landscape and roads are snow covered and it looks more like Christmas than Thanksgiving outdoors.

So I broke with tradition this year, pulled out my pumpkins, gourds, and fall decor that filled the urn at our entry and replaced all that with a small pine tree. I’ll notIMG_7782 add any holiday adornment to the tree until after Thanksgiving. The big metal turkey still stands guard out in the snow.

Today we have family arriving by cars and plane. Until we shuttle everyone to their destinations later today, the kitchen is being used to make pies and a number of other snacks, deserts, and sides that can be made early and refrigerated or frozen.

Cranberry sauce, chess pies, stuffing, salad dressing recipes all come from family sources… siblings, parents, grandparents… a few recipes that have been used for generations. Several years ago, with much help and input from six siblings, I collected our family favorites and printed them in a little book for any family member who wanted one. Of course they all did and so did a few neighbors and friends. Recipes have become much more healthy online today but somehow we love to go back and use the recipes from the old South with too much butter, bacon, mayonnaise, sugar, and salt. Memories…

OIMG_7788n the cover of the cookbook, I chose a photo of my parents as I remember them back when I was a youngster. Sorry that my dad was not living when I completed the project but my mother loved the book with lots of memories and photos of her, our dad, and their brood.

At the back, I added pages of childhood photos of all seven siblings growing up in a much simpler time. It’s my children and grandchildren who love the recipes and the snippets of fun and humorous memories from each each of their aunts and uncles that accompany every recipe they remembered best. It is fun how the youngest sister remembered chewing on the flavorful strings after our mother cut them from around the Sunday roast, or a brother remembered selling soft shelled crabs he caught at our summer cabin just off the Chesapeake Bay to the highest adult bidder… after letting our mother have first choice, of course.

I’d like to think those years were golden years when children were given much more freedom to venture forth and discover the world on foot, on bikes, or even in the rowboat at our summer cottage. As long as we were home when the dinner bell rang, it was all good.  If you watch the PBS Masterpiece program, The Durrells in Corfu, you’ll get a sense of our lives and the freedom we had growing up. Controlled chaos with lots of animals! It was a very good thing!

One holiday to the next…

Last week, I felt blessed to be in the midst of family for Thanksgiving, thinking about those family members who couldn’t be with us and reflecting on those who are no longer with us. Somehow those family traditions and tried and true recipes make everyone’s presence felt. What a week it was!

It was all good with some minor setbacks: three little children with colds, one mother fighting a cold, and at my house, a computer that bit the dust, a dishwasher that kicked the bucket, and signs of an impending cold. So, with houseguests, dishes piling up in the kitchen, and no computer, I’ve technically been offline (except for emails on my iPhone) and not checking the blog world. Thankfully, my recovered computer was plugged in two days ago and the dishwasher was repaired yesterday. Life is better.

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We did all the usual fun things over the week…eating too much, watching the Macy’s parade, walks, shopping Black Friday sales in Portsmouth and encountering a very New England Santa passing out local coupons…img_0221

Exciting for two sons and a son-in-law was a weekend trip to the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus. With two of them OSU fans and one a Michigan grad, someone had to come away disappointed in this double overtime matchup.

With the turkey off the table, the glitter and lights of Christmas are in full swing everywhere. I’ve barely rolled my pumpkins to the curb at my house. I think it’s time for a little holiday music and a trip to the tree farm….

 

Prepping for the Holiday

Yes, our flock is back. They wander through our backyards and strut their stuff down the middle of our quiet street. Several neighborhood crabapple trees are an attraction, a bit of spilled birdseed another. The acorn crop was overly abundant this autumn and will keep the birds well-fed until spring.

Tom Turkey

Of course, seeing these big birds reminds us of the holiday on the horizon…. Thanksgiving! Foods and recipe ingredients for our meal have been ordered or bought and the baking will begin this weekend. We will combine family food traditions to make the holiday special for everyone.

For me, that tradition is a special ham. My favorite salty Virginia ham, on the table with the turkey, is mandatory, and it must be an Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham. We slice it paper-thin and serve it stacked on buttered southern buttermilk biscuits… and eaten warm. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this Thanksgiving tradition.

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Added to desert menu every year are chess pies from a ‘secret’ recipe that has been passed down for many generations in my father’s Appomattox VA family, along with other choices: apple crumb pie, pumpkin custard pie, chocolate balls, buttered caramel and one birthday cake. Lots of sweets! We always eat early enough in the day to guarantee an appetite for delicious leftovers by the time darkness falls. I think a lot of folks do that…

We are looking forward to the week. One granddaughter will arrive from Bennington College by car, however we’ll be racking up the auto miles for airport transportation: once on Sunday, twice on Wednesday, once on Friday, and once the following Sunday. They’re worth every mile and we have much to be thankful for!

*Edwards Virginia Smokehouse photo

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food….

We’ve been waiting for the Wentworth Greenhouses to kick off the Winter Farmers’ Market because we were in the market for fresh cut Brussels sprouts for our Thanksgiving table. The Thanksgiving menu has been planned. We’ve pre-ordered our turkey, our Edwards Virginia ham is on the way, and now we need our vegetables. We’ve come to the right place……

I was startled by the first person I encountered as I crossed the parking lot. He was a jolly old fella who laughed when I asked for his photo. The Christmas Season was definitely not on my mind today…. but, hey, St. Nick must celebrate Thanksgiving, too.  He had a big bag of produce that he carefully loaded into his sleigh…. errr….trunk.

Farmers’ Markets are still somewhat new to me. At the entrance, I surveyed the marketplace. The scene reminded me a little of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The area was packed with hustle, bustle, buying and selling, but there was a big difference here. There were no agitated, impatient, loud folks in this room. Shoppers of all ages, adults and children, sampled wares, stood patiently in line, mingled, laughed and chatted with the growers. Sights, earthy aromas, and textures permeated the throughout. Everyone was having fun.

No, I did not sample the raw goat milk but I couldn’t pass up the goat milk soap!

The sign with the pastas listed such amazing flavors as herb pappardelle, spinach fettuccine, garlic scapes linguine, lemon basil linguine, potato chives casarecci, squid ink spaghettini and more. I would like to sample them all.

So after mingling, sampling, buying, connecting with the growers and admiring their wares for over an hour, we purchased our fresh Brussels sprouts and made our way to the car.  Thank you to Wentworth Greenhouses and Seacoast Eat Local for providing fresh from the farms for local folks and a day’s entertainment…. of foods, crafts and rooms full of festive Christmas plants and adornments. I swooned over the glorious winterberry (Ilex verticillata), my favorite holiday trimming.

We Took Our Chances…

We headed north to visit two of our children for the Thanksgiving holiday where we took our chances with weather in New Hampshire. Temperatures hovered around 70 degrees in Virginia when we left for the airport and temperatures greeted us at close to 30 degrees in New England. For three idyllic days we bundled up and enjoyed the brisk weather of the mountains in the Lake District.

Beautiful conifers and pines dot the landscape but there was not much left on decidious trees and shrubs except gorgeous berries.

The most glorious berry seen in this little village on Lake Meredith is the winterberry (Ilex verticillata) found in every home landscape, a multitude of foundation plantings, growing on the side of the roads and in the woodlands, on mountainsides, and used in decorations for fall, Thanksgiving and for Christmas.

Our luck with blue skies ran out this morning when we awoke to freezing rain then snow.  No more walks today but it is a winter wonderland… the red winterberries and a light snow and glistening ice. For us today is not Black Friday, it is Icy Friday.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester