Thanksgiving has always been my favourite holiday. I love it mostly because, year after year, it brings the entire family together for no other reasons than to celebrate being with each other and to eat good food. My memory bank has a vast and varied number of Thanksgiving memories: the first year I made the meal entirely by myself with coaching from my mother over long distance phone lines from her home in Hawaii; the year I almost had a nervous breakdown because I worked on dinner on a rainy Dallas day, with 6 kids running around in the house, while most of the attached adults were at the Cowboy game; the one year when Josh couldn’t make it home from his East Coast tour and so, history repeated, I coached him through his prep while we tried to figure out how to work around the fact that his first motel room with kitchenette only provided a stove top (he changed motels!); those years when all the kids would bring home friends to share the day with us, prompting one meal that at once accommodated the family as well as the vegetarians and lone kosher guest; the years that the budding cooks in the family started adding their recipes to our menu: butternut squash soup, roasted Brussel Sprouts in cream; and the most recent years, with the grandkids, each with their preferences (for Max it’s always been the rolls, whether biscuits, or yeast rolls, or Parker House); and our tradition of gathering the day before Thanksgiving for Pie Day, the day we bake pumpkin and pecan and apple pies.
Morgan Fischel’s favourite memory of Thanksgiving. I think this is the year she realised than not everyone celebrated Pie Day!
Every year, though, we sat at the table knowing that there would be turkey and cornbread stuffing, with a separate dish of oyster stuffing for my dad, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, often adorned with marshmallows, biscuits or yeast rolls, some vegetable to make us feel better about the meal. A menu outlined early in our married life and then flushed out as the years went on, with the wonderful tradition of everyone gathering to help prepare the meal as well as eat it.
And cranberries! Sometimes from the can, sometimes homemade. For a few years we had a Waldorf Salad, with cranberries added, from Aunt Helene. Some years I made a fresh cranberry sauce, but gave up when it became obvious that everyone preferred the canned stuff. And, then , sometime in the late ’80’s I came across a recipe, in Bon Appetite, for Cranberry Chutney. Over the years, it’s evolved with additions and subtractions, but there hasn’t been a year since then that it hasn’t been at the table.
Feel free to make changes to the recipe. One year I added sliced jalepeños to a batch. This year, I made it without the dried cherries and cranberries, and used piment d’Espelette, a local Basque pepper, rather than the cayenne. And, I’ve used this recipe as a base for other chutneys, eliminating the cranberries and cherries and replacing them with other fruits like fresh figs, peaches, tomatoes, etc..
Cranberry Fig Chutney
24 ounces fresh cranberries
3 cups sugar
2 medium oranges, chopped
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
12 dried figs, chopped
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and let the mixture boil until the fresh cranberries pop, about 3 minutes.
This will make about 4 cups of chutney. I often double the recipe and can enough to give out to friends and to have a bit to serve with cheeses at Christmas time.
Excellent served with crackers or toast rounds, on warm chevre, as an apero. Even better on a day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.