During my childhood in Germany, we celebrated Thanksgiving, if at all, during a church service on a Sunday early in October, as an occasion to acknowledge and appreciate the abundance of Mother Nature. The cornucopia of the autumnal harvest typically was on display, similar to the one I came across during my recent visit there.
I was grateful that my trip coincided with the ripening of a variety of produce, making me the beneficiary of many a delectable bite: the last fragrant raspberries, fleshy figs, and flavorful heirloom tomatoes still maturing in my father’s garden, chubby-cheeked grapes smiling at me from their vines, daring me to ignore them, plum and apple trees waving branches heavy with juicy morsels, walnuts and chestnuts scattered on the ground underneath their arboreal cradles, ready to be collected.
As is so often the case, we don’t always treasure what we have until it’s gone. Growing up in one of Germany’s regions in the Upper Rhine River valley whose mild climate is conducive to successful agri- and viticulture, I didn’t think twice about the yearly bounty which presented itself. Now, residing in Colorado, in a semi-desert environment, I am conscious that raising even a fraction of those fruits and vegetables involves a much higher effort, and might prove impossible altogether.
Thanksgiving, only a few days behind us, plays a much larger role in the United States than in Germany. It is one of the most beloved major historical and cultural national holidays. Families often travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to meet their loved ones. Invariably, it is observed on the last Thursday of November and recalls the fabled celebration in 1621 of those English settlers who had arrived at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower the previous fall, and who had survived their first year on a new continent. Pilgrims and American Indians of the Wampanoag tribe, without whose knowledge of the land and its crops there likely would have been no survivors, peacefully assembled to give thanks for the gifts of the earth. In a revival of an idealized past, each year people still gather in appreciation of good food, family, friends, and other blessings.
As in years past, Hilda, Mike, and I spent this day again with friends, Esther, her two sons, George and Don, Hazel, and her daughter Valerie, so that eight of us convened around our laden table. Even though each family has its own customs, the traditional dinner ingredients are turkey, stuffing (or dressing, depending on the region), mashed potatoes, a sweet potato dish, green beans, and cranberry sauce or relish.
My husband and mother-in-law are traditionalists when it comes to this meal, and Mike’s anticipation of and pleasure in his turkey feast and leftovers are remarkable. He takes his role as chef very seriously and lovingly plans, procures, and prepares each item on the menu.
This is usually complemented by a delicious salmon filet for the pescatarians among us (me), contributed and baked to perfection by Valerie. Mike, moreover, introduced a new recipe, a delicious vegetable medley consisting of onions, carrots, celery, squash, and apples, baked in and topped with an apple cider reduction.
As if this plenty were not sufficiently filling, following a culinary pause not nearly long enough, we proceeded to dessert. It consisted of Hilda’s luscious chocolate cake with pumpkin frosting, my minor contribution, standard pumpkin pie, and a present by Hazel and Valerie, pumpkin pie supreme, which equaled pumpkin pie with additional calories. Pumpkin in some form or other is indispensable on this day.
Be it on this American holiday, or during my trip to Germany, copious and good food tastes better when savored in good company, with good conversation. I have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
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