I’m still reflecting on Thanksgiving. For such an important holiday, it gets a bit of a bum rap these days. Halloween items still hang about in those clearance-sale shopping baskets into late November, and it seems stores are already clearing shelves for Christmas items about the time football season starts. Ghosts, superheroes and princesses roam the streets as October ends – Christmas ties, sweaters and Santa hats are dusted off on Black Friday – but who wears Pilgrim hats anymore? So I’m going to give Thanksgiving a bit more face time.
I’ve especially been reflecting on Thanksgiving desserts. I don’t have any vivid memories of desserts that are particular to this day from our family table, which is a bit strange. But there may be a couple of reasons for this. One, I have a feeling that pecan pies may have been one of the main offerings, and until I got out of college, I simply did not do pecans in any form. As a more mature eater, I have come to accept them - even enjoy them if properly pralined or toasted - but back in the day, these nuts were pecana non grata in my mouth.
Also, despite the tradition of pumpkin and sweet potato pies, I do not remember being interested in them in my formative years, either. Nor do I have any bad memories or gag reflexes associated with them, like I do with coconut. It’s just a blank. Later, though, I married into a pumpkin pie family. Nothing spectacular, just the recipe off the pumpkin can, usually prepared by paw-in-law. I enjoy pumpkin pie now, but I had to work my way into it, much like I learned to drink coffee.
My first cup of coffee was about 30 percent sugar, 60 percent milk, and 10 percent coffee – my early pieces of pumpkin pie were closer to a bite of pie in a sea of whipped cream. Today I can enjoy a piece of nearly whipped cream-less pumpkin pie and wash it down with cup of 90% coffee.
I also married into cheesecake. I’m sure I must have had some cheesecake somewhere along the way in my pre-Melissa days, but again – blank. She loves it, though, and has brought me to a greater appreciation. Unfortunately, I have failed pretty miserably in my attempts to make it. I blame this partly on the fact that we lived overseas most of our early married life in a Philly-free zone, and the available substitutes just didn’t cut it. It could be, too, that I view recipes much like the pirate code in Pirates of the Caribbean – not so much a code, but more of a guideline. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes it is a disaster.
This Thanksgiving I tried to negotiate a relationship between pumpkin and cheesecake. I started with a cheesecake recipe that claimed to be from a famous café (now closed) in Oxford that I frequented as a student. Funny thing, though: this time I did follow the recipe to the letter, and it was still nearly a disaster. The cheesecake filling itself turned out fit to eat - I followed a tip from one of the recent Sunday magazines in the paper and added pumpkin to half my filling and swirled it in. That was my tribute to Thanksgiving tradition. The crust was another story. Typical ingredients: graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter.
The butter and sugar ratios seemed a bit off, but I charged forward in faith, trusting the recipe for a change. Once mixed, however, the butter rose to the top in pools - I ended up pouring off enough to make two or three more desserts. When it came time to cut the cheesecake, I had to literally break off the crust, which – as you can imagine – did not make for pretty pieces.
Thanksgiving was two weeks ago, and I’m still in a thankful mood. I’m thankful for the turkey that was on sale last week – we didn’t bring any leftovers home from Granny’s, and I needed a few more days of turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, and turkey pot pie. And I’m thankful for a supportive family who, despite the comments about potential broken teeth and the hard candy I was trying to pass off as a crust, will probably eat my cheesecake again.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .