Let’s talk turkey

By Hyacinth Miles

My grandmother’s favorite holiday tradition was an Old Fashioned cocktail, which in her version combined a generous helping of whiskey with Sprite (not 7-up!), a splash of bitters, and a cherry. As I have gotten older I come to appreciate my grandmother’s wisdom, and I heartily recommend it. Nothing promotes a feeling of family togetherness like alcohol.

She had other traditions too, most of them involving the sort of food that had been popular in Indiana when she was a young wife in the ‘50s. The most enduring of these is the famous two toned Jell-O salad. A layer of green Jell-o, with apple bits is chilled in a large cake pan so that it is about an inch deep. When it has set, a layer of cream cheese is added and then a second layer of Jell-O, red with cranberries, is added on top and left to set again. This was served on Christmas Eve, on individual salad plates. Each slice carefully placed on a piece of iceberg lettuce.

This is the sort of thing it is very easy to make fun of, and personally I have always found Indiana food to be quite hilarious. But then, as a member of the younger generation, it is an obligation to share a quiet chuckle at my grandmother’s expense almost as much as it is my obligation to secretly enjoy her cooking, iceberg lettuce and all. Last year a wealthier, yuppier branch of our family had a famous New York deli pack an order on dry ice and Fed-Ex it to Cincinnati so that we could enjoy bagels and lox on Thanksgiving morning. This was very generous (and quite tasty), but it seemed like a very New York-ish thing to do. The sight of my grandmother’s two toned Jell-O salad sitting placidly among all the white and orange bags was reassuring, proof that my family was not going to morph into a group of strangers who could only talk about real-estate, retirement plans and good places to stay in the Greek isles.

Traditions in food are a funny thing. Some are born out of necessity. Several years ago my entire family came down with Salmonella poisoning the day after Thanksgiving, 10 people in a house with 2 toilets. This inspired the venerable tradition of making ABSOLUTELY SURE you cook the stuffing inside the bird to 165º F, (a tradition I highly recommend, by the way).

Thanksgiving traditions are made through habit, mistakes in recipes, and the odd sort of sentimentality that seems to pervade the air around this time. New traditions are formed every year. All I can say is choose them wisely, they will be with you for many, many years to come.

This week, recipes you can use, in case you, you know, happened to have any of these ingredients lying around the house. n