Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Reflections

I have no memory of spending a single Thanksgiving at my parents' house when I was a child or even as an adult. I don't remember my mother ever preparing a turkey, though in a tattered, notebook filled with her handwritten, stained and sometimes unreadable recipes, there are several for turkey, along with side dishes obviously linked to the holiday, such as baked cranberry relish and pumpkin pie; clearly, we always went to someone else's house for this quintessential American holiday.

A well-worn page from my mother's notebook, with recipes for
coffee cake, pineapple tsimmes, stuffed cabbage and a jello mold

My parents were immigrants--my mother from Glasgow, Scotland, and my father from Karlsruhe, Germany--and the holidays that filled our house with food and family were usually the Jewish ones--Hanukkah, Passover and Friday night sabbath. The foods that my mother prepared evoked a mix of Jewish, English and occasionally German or Russian traditions: roast beef, fish and chips, red cabbage and apples, bagels and lox, mandelbrot (a dry almond cookie that's quite similar to a biscotti), rhubarb pie and a constant staple at our house, pound cake with candied ginger. Most of the recipes in the dilapidated notebook carry the names of relatives and friends who shared them with my mother.

A family celebration in my parents' backyard in Palo Alto

Flipping through the pages is like taking a stroll down an echoey hallway hearing voices from a long-vanished past filled with parties, laughter and, always, delicious, bountiful food. At a time of year when it's hard not to wax nostalgic for distant celebrations and loved ones who are no longer with us, my mother remains a constant presence and inspiration in the kitchen, even when I make recipes that were never in her repertoire and prepare to celebrate the coming holidays with another generation of friends and relations. Isn't this what Thanksgiving is all about?

My beautiful mother Flora in 1963


  1. Yes, Ruth, that's what Thanksgiving is all about. What a lovely remembrance of your mum, and holidays gone by.

    1. Thanks, Rogena! I appreciate the comment. This is the time I miss her most.

  2. What a beautiful piece of writing and remembering. I hope our Thanksgiving make the same impact.

    1. Our Thanksgiving is a wonderful, joyous festivity that is part of something that was born when I married your son and became part of your "clan." They're both great and nostalgic, but incomparable. You can't go back--except in your imagination.