Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past


The year my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner made the biggest splash was the year I only brought one dish: the green bean casserole. What fabulous recipe did I use, you ask? The one on the side of the can of French Fried Onions.
That’s right.
My ingredient list was an illustrious one: cans of cream of mushroom soup, cans of green beans, and cans of fried onions. And everybody loved it. Like capital letters LOVED IT. I mean, sure, I doctored it up a little. I added some chopped sautéed onions, some minced jalapenos, a dash or two (or seven) of Tabasco, some coarse ground black pepper. But let’s face facts, I won’t be upping my foodie cred from this admission.
In the ensuing years, I have prepared dishes that were much more epicurean, with fresher ingredients and snobbishly complex recipes. I have replaced the old-guard can of cranberry sauce with a cranberry-pear chutney that only my husband and grandmother like. And I have replaced that chutney (in a vain attempt to please a larger number of family members) with a cranberry fruit conserve from The Barefoot Contessa that was pushed to the lonely side of the buffet, where it languished, untouched and forlorn.
One year, I made a very healthy and homemade-looking sweet potato casserole with a recipe from Vegetarian Times. A guest who joined our family for dinner that year made some appreciative noises about it, but I think she was the only one who ate it. And it is possible that she was just being polite. Everyone else went for the sweeter, crowd-pleasing streuseled casserole made by my grandmother. You would think I would learn something from these experiences.
Instead, I amped up the stakes even more. I figured that if everyone loved the canned green bean casserole, then SURELY they would be tickled by a version in which I used fresh green beans and made my own mushroom sauce from scratch. I spent half a day on it, trimming eight pounds of green beans and breaking (by hand) four pounds of mushrooms. I stirred, I simmered, I painstakingly followed the very detailed Cook’s Illustrated instructions. And nobody liked it.
Though it is embarrassing to admit, things are going to be done much differently this year. I will follow Christopher Kimball’s lead and make the cranberry sauce recipe printed on the doggone bag of cranberries. I will bake the uber-easy (and, by the looks of it, sweet enough to please the family) Sweet Potato Casserole recipe from Pioneer Woman. I’m going to cook the Make-Ahead Gravy recipe from The Minimalist. And yes, I will make the blasted green bean casserole using canned ingredients. I will, however, stop short of cooking from any recipe that calls for marshmallows or gelatin. That is where I draw the line.
I am going to try Fine Cooking’s Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie recipe (which has been staring at me from the cover of the October issue for two months now, painfully teasing my sweet tooth on a daily basis). But I will be taking that dish to my in-laws house instead. Because if I’ve learned anything here, it is that my family does not want the classics to be messed with. In any way.
So I'll just take my toys...

6 comments:

Linda up north said...

Oh too funny :) One year my sister in law made an orange and cranberry (with nuts no less) stuffing instead of the time honored sage and onion. My kids remarked that it sure wasn't Thanksgiving with that fruit stuff in the bird. And of course they couldn't even think of eating much more than a taste.

Suzanne said...

Hey Sarah, I read your mama's blog, and visit yours as a result....I made the most fabulous Jerusalem artichoke soup the other night. If you want the recipe, shoot me an email at thelovelylakme@gmail.com, I'm not sure if you get sunchokes down your way or not.

Anonymous said...

Sarah,
I would love to prepare 2 huge pans of green bean casserole for the Bodie Thanksgiving. If you have already bought all those cans, I'll just pick them up Tuesday after school. Otherwise,I'll just buy all the cans when I do my shopping. I have to brag that my family liked the Cook's Illustrated version.

Emily C.

Sarah Beam said...

Ms. Emily,

Not only will we be delighted to accept your green bean casseroles (I'm deleting that from my uber-anal cooking schedule right now...), but we would also love it if you would JOIN US for Thanksgiving. And I'm jealous that your family liked the fresh version.

Sarah Beam said...

Ah, Linda, its nice to know my family isn't the only one...

Cindy said...

Oh Ms. Carr...PLEASE do come...I'll email you....