Thanksgiving in my mother’s family was always celebrated at our house on the Sunday after the holiday. I could tell you why the Sunday celebration, how holidays rotated among my aunts and grandmother, or about the food in this German-American upstate New York family. I choose the food.Food in the 1950s was different than today. I spend time before Thanksgiving looking for recipes that put a new twist on traditional foods. As I think back, I realize I have gone quite far from the childhood menu, especially in the variety of dishes served. My mother provided what I now consider a whole meal before the aunts contributed their side dishes. She and my father prepared the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, two vegetables and cranberry sauce.
My father made me think all men helped in the kitchen on big holidays, although none of my uncles or grandfather did. He was especially proud of his dressing. While others might use apples or chestnuts, his dressing was not complete without pineapple and raisins soaked in brandy.Dessert was always pie baked by one of my aunts. Others brought their specialties; German rice, stewed prunes, cole slaw, and molded gelatin salad. There was an appetizer too. I recall fruit cocktail, fruit juice with sherbet, frozen fruit cup, or tomato juice on a rotating schedule. I remember relish trays laden with olives and homemade pickles. A family favorite was celery, ends dipped in salt. Some of the crisp veggie was eaten with the meal, but most it was consumed by the women as they talked after the dishes were washed and dried. Imagine being able to eat more then.
Of this feast, the German rice may need further explanation. In short, take ¼ cup of white rice, one quart of milk, cinnamon stick and sugar. Simmer in a double boiler for hours, creating a pudding with about 20-25 half-cup servings. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon to finish. If you can master this dish, you are better than all the women in my generation of this family except my cousin, Nancy. One aunt told me the secret was to use short grain rice. When I told another aunt about this tip, she came over the next day with a bowl made with long grain rice and made it clear that substitutions were not needed for success. I have stopped trying after a few dismal attempts as a young adult, but I have Nancy’s recipe which is probably Aunt Millie’s formula so I may give it another try sometime.