Tyler Florence used to have a show on Food Network where he would help people who were trying to recover a long, lost recipe. People would ask for help on recapturing Grandma’s Beef Stew or some other childhood favorite. Taking information about the person’s ethnic heritage, foods available in the location that they lived, and other family history, he’d come into a person’s home with two recipes. One would be a proximity–or best guess–on how the person’s grandmother might have made the dish and then he’d give his own take on how he likes to prepare the dish. I couldn’t find the show listed on the Food Network, so I don’t think its still on the air. The closest I could find was something called “Rescue Chef.” Since it’s Thanksgiving week, I started thinking about “lost recipes” and other traditions that have gone by the wayside. My Aunt Jo always talked about her mother’s, (my Great Grandmother Anna Ruth Buchanan Sullivan’s) Ambrosia Salad. The recipe was so special that she even had a specific dish that it was put in. My Aunt Jo inherited the dish and when you entered her home, she’d point up to the top of her cabinets to the large ceramic bowl. I have never tasted my great grandmother’s Ambrosia Salad.
It makes me sad because it is a tradition that has been lost. Even though my mother just passed away this year, it won’t be the first Thanksgiving I’ve spent without her fantastic feast. For he last 15 or so years I have observed Thanksgiving with my in-laws who’s Greek heritage comes with its own host of traditions. I’ve gone at least 15 years without my mother’s Turkey stuffing. My husband’s family doesn’t serve stuffing. Instead they have a delicious rice alongside their beautiful roasted bird. Still, this year, because of the loss of my mother, I have been wondering if I’ve already lost the recipe of her stuffing. Stuffing was never a major dish at my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner, but it was always my favorite. In fact, the very first Thanksgiving I spent with my in-laws, I made my husband “swing by” my parents house afterward. I told my mother I was in culture-shock without her stuffing and she packed up a care-package for me. Stuffing was not in my husband’s traditions so he didn’t really get it. All the more for me.
I see magazine covers touting “traditional” oyster stuffing, or cranberry raison stuffing or some other obscure concoction, but they all seem so foreign to me.
Image via WikipediaMy mother’s stuffing, was so simple it was almost a crime. Its not a recipe she would brag about–and she really could brag about being a great cook. Some of her recipes even won awards. This was just plain ol’ warm your tummy, stuffing. It was simply bread chunks, celery, broth and seasonings, baked until there was a crust on top. Easy, squeezie, lemon peazy. Still, what I wouldn’t give to have a bowl full of it now.
My husband’s family has a Thanksgiving tradition that’s also slowly dying out. Right after the dinner most of the elderly would gather at one table and play nickle poker. They’d have their coffee and pumpkin pie while vying for the pot. In recent years, fewer and fewer people have gathered at the table. Most of the older folks have passed, and the younger ones want to see the latest and greatest video game being played. It will only be a few more years now when this tradition is no longer observed.
There’s still hope for the younger ones. Even though my son had never had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’, he has had my mother’s stuffing. True, I cooked it, but it was her recipe. I didn’t expect the reaction I got, so I only made a little of it. The tradition must be somewhere deep inside his DNA, cause he ate most of it and asked me to make it again the next night. Now, when ever I prepare turkey — once or twice a year — I make my mother’s stuffing. All this is my long-winded way of asking what other traditions have been forgotten?