I tend to miss my mother most, I think, at Thanksgiving. In fact, just last week I was telling the other folks in the teachers’ lounge about Mom’s incredible “stir and roll” (Betty Crocker) pie crust. Absolutely the best I’ve ever tasted, rich, flaky, perfect every time, especially as part of her renowned plum pie which appeared (along with apple and pumpkin) at Thanksgiving. That crust has, I’m afraid, spoiled me for the ready-made variety!
Thanksgiving was always at our house and it was always very full, brimming with all four children and their families in more recent years. In years past, it was my aunt and uncle and my cousins, and of course their families as time went on. Mom cooked for weeks preparing ahead of time, and resolutely refused to let folks bring anything or do dishes (though of course she was overruled on both counts). The one dish that we haven’t had since we stopped doing Thanksgiving at their place is sauerkraut with pork. I know…it doesn’t fit the mold of traditional Thanksgiving fare, but Mom was most definitely a Pennsylvania-Dutch cook and my, but it was good! She would cook it all the day before, I think incorporating an entire pork roast, then set it on the window unit air conditioner just outside the dining room to cool (I suppose to keep the smell at bay), with a large rock on top so critters could not feast on it before we did.
Just before we ate, Dad would offer a lovely prayer or The Doxology was sung by everyone. There was always that heaping of plates, and groans of “Oooh….I can’t possibly eat any more,” only to be replaced by, “Well, Marcia, maybe just a sliver of your plum pie.” The cream was always freshly whipped right before desserts were laid out, and was the final, glorious topping for those pies. And there was more than the pies; raspberry jello with canned fruit as a sort of simple bit of sweetness, as well as for any little ones present, who loved to see it wiggle and sway. Finally, there was one dessert that was my favorite and which I incorporated into my family’s Thanksgivings when we lived too far away to come home. Totally decadent and prepared the day before Thanksgiving, it consisted of chocolate or coconut wafers with real whipped cream between each one, then covered in same, to form a rich, soft loaf by the time it was spooned into the next day. I haven’t thought of that particular confection in years…how it takes me back!
Mother and Dad are both gone now, but we kids and the grandkids still gather to feast on all the staples. While the meals are always good, they’re never, of course, as delicious as those that Mom labored over for so many hours. I suspect that though the ingredients are the same and recipes similar if not identical, there is an intangible that is missing from the repast. It is, of course, the joy Mom both received and gave as she went about her cooking weeks in advance. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday, and it showed; it’s mine, too. And you know, this year I’m going to bake Mom’s plum pie. I suspect she’d like that.