My parents fly from Montreal, Quebec to Washington, DC to spend the long weekend with us. My father walks in the house with a carry-on bag, which has a familiar smell. A smile crosses my face.
My mother carries her own bag and she is saying, “Please be careful. The bag has all your favorite cookies that I made for you and schlepped on the plane.” It is 1977, Thanksgiving Day. Our friends are coming for dinner, and I have prepared food that I thought would be appropriate—and delicious–for the occasion.
We never celebrated Thanksgiving in Montreal. As observant Jews, my parents thought it was a great time of year to go to New York, visit our relatives, go to the theater and have a good vacation.
So, I had no Thanksgiving memories to rely on while everyone around me was obsessing where they were getting their turkey, how they were going to prepare it, how long they would cook it…the list seemed never ending.
OK, I got it. You have to serve turkey. Then I remembered my mother always served turkey on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Naturally, I thought of knishes, carrots and green beans as the vegetables.
However, my father and I cooked up another idea. He knew how much I loved smoked turkey, a Montreal delicacy. The entire bird is smoked and covered in spices, with a heavy dose of garlic. He said he was willing to bring one down, along with the knishes and the karnatzel. Just to explain, karnatzel is a thin, stick-like dried meat made up of fat, spices and garlic. It is delicious!
To complete the meal, I made sour coleslaw, baked beans with hot dogs which we always ate with smoked turkey and a pecan pie using a recipe from my days in Canada that used maple syrup, a Quebec favorite.
As you can imagine, I totally missed the mark with this menu! Although my parents, my husband, me and even our friends loved this novel way of celebrating Thanksgiving, when I looked over at my son and saw his face in a hangdog position, I realized what a disaster this dinner was. He quietly muttered, “I’ll never tell anyone what I ate for dinner this Thanksgiving!”
I’m a fast learner. All year long, I clipped recipes. A month before Thanksgiving I bought every magazine with a turkey on it. I obsessed about what was “authentic” American Thanksgiving food.
The next year, the table had so many gourds, pumpkins, yellow and orange flowers, apples, nuts and chocolate turkeys that there was not enough room for the plates. I made a Thanksgiving on steroids.
After 36 years of living in the United States, we now have our own favorite “American” Thanksgiving recipes. The pecan tart with the maple syrup is still part of the menu. We need to honor and respect our Canadian heritage!
Why am I telling you all this about my own holiday food history? Because we can translate my experience into this year’s experience when we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and Hanukkah together. What an opportunity to enjoy each other’s traditions and sharing all of our culinary favorites. Cranberry tartes and latkes…everyone can be acknowledged and everyone’s heritage can be included.