Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving and Jiggly Stuff

It used to be my favorite part of Thanksgiving was cranberry sauce. And why not anymore, you might ask? Because I don't cook for myself. But I was reading Helen Pattskyn's blog and her recipe for cranberry sauce [TRY IT!] got me to thinking about Thanksgiving and that my feelings about writing are a lot like my feelings about making cranberry sauce.

You see, years ago when I was a really young cook, one of my great ambitions was to turn out a great Thanksgiving meal. I worked hard at it, too! Year after year, through my children’s baby and toddler years, I perfected making a juicy big turkey and all the fixings. For a Wisconsin girl this was a laudable achievement, the gold standard of success for a homemaker, and I kid you not that my family of strapping 6’+ brothers could put away 15 pounds of mashed potatoes and completely reduce a 24 pound turkey AND a ham to well-gnawed bones. A must-have was cranberry sauce made with fresh cranberries, and I ended up with a fine collection of delicious ways to prepare the dish.

By the time my three boys were grown, I was up to 20 pounds of mashed potatoes, a turkey, ham, AND turkey breast on the side. Stuffing, check. Glazed carrots, check. Stewed apples and buttery sweet yams, check. Braised celery almondine, fresh rolls, corn and ham fritters, and cranberry sauce—check. 

And then BANG! I moved to Philadelphia, married into a totally non-Midwest family, and entered culture shock.

First off, the turkey made the transition. Turns out, Steve the Strategist’s family had bad luck with turkeys. I could do that! After my success with the turkey, I sat back and tried to introduce my other recipes. Some recipes made it, though braised celery got nixed. So did the cranberry sauce with real cranberries. When I suggested it, my in-laws looked at me like I’d suggested haggis.

They wanted the jellied stuff from the can.

And I’m going… but… but… that stuff’s fake! The other kind is real!

They don’t want real. They absolutely love their jiggly cranjelly. They don’t even want to try it any other way.

Which kind of ties into my feelings about writing. Now I’ll say upfront I don’t know for certain how readers regard my stories. Maybe they think my writing is real cranberry sauce like Helen’s lovely recipe or what I want to make, or maybe they consider it jiggly canned food for the masses. Frankly, I’d rather not know. But when I’m writing, I like to think I’m making custom cranberry sauce. Fresh berries, fruit zest, spices, sugar… maybe a little booze… mixed in my grandmother’s turn of the last century mixing bowls, tasted and tweaked and bursting with rich colors and flavors. Making real food makes me feel good, and so does my writing. 


This morning I’ll stuff and cook a nice fat turkey, peel five pounds of potatoes and a couple of yams, whip up some fritters and glaze some carrots. Just as we’re serving dinner in the afternoon I will take a chilled can out of the fridge, open it, slide a glob of jellied vaguely reddish stuff onto a plate, slice it, and serve it with a smile. The meal is about the guests… not the cook. The cook dreams of fresh cranberry sauce, but the guests sure do love their jiggly stuff! God bless their happy little hearts.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. I don't like cranjelly either. It just isn't natural.

  2. Hmm...looks weird too. Slicing it just makes it look worse...or like sliced beetroot...*shudders*

  3. Eeeeew. Never seen that, thank goodness :) Cranberries have to be round and kind of sweet but kind of sharp and sticky and...and... Not sliceable. For the record you are definitely a boozy cranberry writer :)