“The past is a foreign country,” author L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his book The Go-Between. Perhaps that’s why we hold on to the postcards…
The latest wave of the coronavirus crisis means this will be a very different Thanksgiving holiday for most of us. Health officials are recommending that the guest list be limited to our immediate housemates, and that all non-essential travel plans be put on hold for next year. Warnings include this dire announcement issued this week by health officials: “After Big Thanksgiving Dinners, Plan Small Christmas Funerals.” Yikes.
For those of us who love to come together with family and friends this year is a challenge. However, the limitations imposed by the pandemic don’t mean that this Thanksgiving can’t still be festive.
The menu may be smaller and we may be missing friends and family, but family recipes can help keep traditions alive and help evoke the spirit of those who aren’t with us this year.
That pie recipe handed down from a beloved grandmother may have been served at the table in 1918, when an earlier generation grappled with the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic, or with joy to returning service men and women after World War II or Viet Nam. Maybe this is the year not just to prepare the recipe, but to write it out and share it with those who are absent this year.
Thanksgiving traditions run deep in American culture. For those who enjoy cooking, this is an ideal time to revive an old family recipe or, conversely, take the opportunity of not being tied to tradition to experiment and try something new.
In that spirit here at TNT we are sharing some of our favorite family recipes. Kat High’s recipe is inspired by her Native American heritage, the people who were here long before European traditions arrived on the scene. Suzanne Guldimann’s recipe is handed down from her great aunt, an immigrant to this country at the turn of the 20th century who made a successful life for herself in the land of opportunity; Nathalie Krull shares her own unique recipe for Sweet Potato Pie, a new tradition for her family.
Recipes are more than just formulas for creating food, they can contain history, memories, and even love. Sharing them can bring us together, even when we are apart.
Most of us will be preparing smaller menus this year, but food banks and homeless shelters are gearing up for a holiday season with fewer volunteers and more people in need of help. Donations are urgently needed. It’s easy to drop off an extra bag of canned and dry goods at www.westvalleyfoodpantry.org, and it can make a big difference for a family in need.
Nourish.LA is in need of volunteers. Founder Natalie Flores along with Demetrios Mavromichalis, owner of The Wood restaurant have connected the dots between those in need of food, those with excess and supermarket waste. Feeding the community with food donations from all round the local area, they repurposed the restaurant and feed over 1000 people a week at their weekly food drive (Sunday 1:30-3:00pm).
Kat High. Thanksgiving. Set at the time of the annual Harvest Festival. Hunting, gathering, sharing a meal were not solitary activities in tribes. All was done in community – planting, hunting, gathering and all were fed. In fact, in many tribal languages, there is no word for I. We were not rugged individuals, but friends and family.
Pickled quail eggs – we used to have quail in the yard – eggs gathered in Spring – pickled for later – or gathered at your local gourmet grocer
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup peeled and grated beet (from about 1/2 medium beet)
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for serving
- 2 teaspoons pickling spice
- 24 quail eggs
- Combine the vinegar, water, beet, sugar, measured salt, and pickling spice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the eggs in a medium saucepan with a tightfitting lid and cover with cold water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit 3 minutes. Prepare an ice water bath bowl with ice and water.
- Let eggs sit in the ice water until they are cold, about 5 minutes. Carefully crack and peel and rinse under cold water. Pat dry and transfer to a glass pint jar with a tightfitting lid; set aside.
- Set a fine-mesh strainer over a 1- or 2-cup measuring cup with a spout. Pour the cooled pickling liquid into the strainer and discard the contents of the strainer. Pour the pickling liquid over the eggs and seal the jar. Turn the jar upside down a few times to distribute the pickling liquid. Refrigerate at least 24 hours and up to 1 week. Serve the pickled eggs sprinkled with coarse salt.
Suzanne Guldimann. My Great Aunt Mary immigrated from Sicily to New York City in 1902. She immediately went to work in a garment district sweat shop to help support her parents and younger siblings. Aunt Mary was just 16, but she was a gifted seamstress who worked her way up to the top, holding an important position in later life at Christian Dior. She also became a union organizer to help other young women get decent pay for their work. She was a wonderful cook and always prepared the holiday meals for the family. She grew pots of basil on the windowsill of her New York kitchen and her recipes are much loved and cherished by my family.
This is Aunt Mary’s Sicilian take on Thanksgiving stuffing, bursting with piñon nuts, Italian parsley and sage. We now prepare her recipe as a casserole that is the centerpiece of our vegetarian Thanksgiving table. The original recipe makes enough for an army, or at least a very large Sicilian family. This is a scaled down version that still provides plenty of leftovers. The original calls butter, but olive oil and a little extra salt works just as well and makes this dish entirely vegan.
2 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped onion (green onion is traditional, but white or yellow onions or shallots, or a mix, are all good options)
1 c. raisins (I use a mix of dark and light)
1 c. pecan pieces (walnuts will work, too)
1 c. piñon nuts (there is no real substitute for flavor of piñon nuts, but blanched chopped almonds would work in a pinch)
1 or two bunches of Italian parsley—at least a cup, chopped. Use the leaves in the stuffing, throw the stems in the vegetable broth for a little extra flavor.
Fresh sage leaves and thyme to taste (I use about a tablespoon of each, chopped fine).
4 cups breadcrumbs (homemade is lovely, but packaged works fine, too)
4-6 T. butter or olive oil
1 t. dried poultry seasoning (can be omitted if you put in enough fresh herbs)
1/2 -1 c. vegetable broth
1/2 c. sweet fortified wine—Marsala, Madeira, or sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the raisins overnight, or bring to a boil in two cups of water and let sit covered until the raisins are plump. Reserve the liquid and combine it with the vegetable broth.
Saute the celery and onions in the butter or olive oil until translucent. Add the raisins, nuts, parsley and herbs and mix. Mix in the bread crumbs. Moisten with the wine and add enough broth so the stuffing sticks together but isn’t sodden. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bake in a covered greased casserole dish in a moderate oven (375-400) for 40-50 minutes. Remove the cover 15 minutes before the dish is done to brown the top. Placing the baking dish in a pie tin full of water can help prevent the bottom from burning. The goal is to get the top and edges crisp and brown while not burning the bottom.
This recipe can be assembled the night before and left to rest overnight. It also freezes well. To me, the scent of celery, onions, sage and thyme cooking together in this recipe are the essence of Thanksgiving, and evoke the memory of loved ones who are no longer with us except in our hearts and memories.
Nathalie Krull. Our local family is quite large, and we nearly always have out of state family come into town for our Thanksgiving event. That means upwards of 20 people–from very large men to small children running around literally underfoot. That number is guaranteed to grow because there are always some “orphan” friends of someone in the family to be added because they find themselves with nowhere else to go. Our door is always open and we always find a way to squeeze in another seat at the table.
Not this year. Instead we’ll look for comfort in our favorite dish.
We always divy up the menu the same way each year so that no one kitchen is seriously overburdened. I always bring the pies and there always has to be at least one, better two, of each of the traditional kinds—pecan, apple, apple-cranberry and pumpkin. Actually, I’ve moved on from pumpkin to sweet potatoes.
The change to sweet potatoes started as a fresher alternative to canned pumpkin but I soon discovered that sweet potatoes have more protein than pumpkin, twice as much fiber and nearly three times as much vitamin A, making them the better choice altogether. Most importantly, sweet potato pie is always a huge hit with my consumers.
Since I am notoriously hard to pin down on my recipes because I am an “eyeball” type of cook, and I tend to cook in large volumes, feel free to vary the ingredients the way you see fit. The filling goes into an unbaked 9-inch pie crust and is baked for one hour or when a toothpick inserted in the filling comes out clean.
Sweet Potato Pie
3 steamed, peeled and pureed sweet potatoes
¾ c. sugar
3 large eggs
¼ cup half and half
1 t. vanilla
1 t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. ground nutmeg (plus a pinch more)
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients and mix until smooth with beaters or by hand. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle with sugar and let sit until all is dissolved into filling. Bake as directed. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.