Sunday, December 6, 2015

Holiday Cooking

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations, family traditions and making memories.
One of the most sacred customs is home cooking. Turkeys are the focal point for many family tables, but how the turkey is prepared depends on regional traditions—from deep fried turkeys with cornbread dressing to roasted turkey with oyster stuffing and every variation imaginable. The side dishes vary a bit also, but traditional recipes and menu selections run as deeply as family roots. 

Some of my favorite family stories come from my younger brother’s adherence to our mother’s choice of meal preparation. When Mark married Michelle, an ardent healthy eating homemaker, he introduced Michelle’s young son to at least two menu items he’d never experienced: white bread and beef. As Mark remembers, Kolby loved the purity of the white bread over wheat, and when the youngster tasted beef for the first time, he opined: “This is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten!”

In contrast, Mark is not as adventurous in his eating habits and resists changes to his diet. As I indicated before, he is faithful to the food he grew up with. Take, for instance, the first time Michelle cooked for Thanksgiving. She bought a free-range turkey, organic cranberries, and fresh green beans from the Farmer’s Market, among other things. Mark was mortified. “Where’d you get this stuff? Our turkey needs to be a Butterball! And this cranberry relish is all wrong. We have to have Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. And Del Monte canned beans, honey, you should have gotten Del Monte—and the string beans, not the fancy French cut.” (Oh the trials and errors we go through as newly married.)

I cooked for Thanksgiving this year. Yes, I cooked a Butterball turkey, made green bean casserole (made with Del Monte green beans, Campbell’s, cream of mushroom soup and French’s fried onion rings), along with Mother’s recipe for cornbread stuffing, Del Monte canned corn, fruit salad, and dinner rolls (with real butter not margarine). The pumpkin and pecan pies were “homemade” from HEB, but tasted as well or better than I could have done. I cooked for my man, my son and a neighbor. Afterwards Ronnie asked: “How did you know how to cook all this?” Why, from my momma, of course.

Since then I have asked my colleagues at work how they made their family holiday meal and I was so surprised to hear the younger ones (ages 30s and 40s) don’t have recipes. If they don’t go to their mother’s house, they buy the cooked turkeys and all the trimmings from grocery stores—or they take the family out to a restaurant or hotel. Okay, I Admit, I’ve done the same, but I do know how to do it myself and these friends are saying they do not.

I’m saddened. The holidays are times for family gatherings, and mealtime is the best part of it because everyone is at the same table and talking with each other… assuming the TV trays in front of the big screen and the smart phones are banned. I feel the tradition may be endangered, and that is not a good thing for us as a people.

I believe the importance of Thanksgiving and Christmas and other December family celebrations ought to be embraced and cherished. It is a time for us to reacquaint ourselves with one another in our immediate family and/or our family of choice, along with our extended family. We do this best over a beautiful meal prepared by loving hands.

I will yield to the idea that the holiday menu does not necessarily have to be rigidly followed, from mother to daughter ad infinitum, and that even favorite sons should be more open to the gifts of their wives. Michelle eased Mark away from his questionable tastes by replacing the traditional dinner of his childhood with a delicious one fit for his manly tastes, and now a tradition in their home. Among other things, it includes a prime rib roast instead of a Butterball turkey.

As for my family here in Navasota, my guys will joyfully eat anything I prepare, but I know their favorites so I think, for Christmas, I’ll prepare the first thing I ever learned to cook as a young girl in Texas: chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy. Oh, and canned green beans and corn… you know which brand.