The Gleeful Gourmand: Thanksgiving Memories

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories

When I was a kid growing up, my family would make the trek every Thanksgiving to my father’s childhood home in Moundsville, West Virginia. It’s almost impossible for me not to think of West Virginia when I think of Thanksgiving. Though the 8-hour car ride was tough, it was well worth it, especially as we wound our way through the mountains soaring and painted in their fall hues. Deer carcasses littered the sides of the roads, but that was just ordinary.

We would pull up to the front of my Grandma Hazel’s house, light blue with its slate stone steps leading up to a great front porch. She always had a pot of vegetable soup bubbling on the stove for us, and slices of white bread for making sandwiches. It was a big deal for us to have white bread since wheat was always the order of things at our home. Another thing my mother allowed us to have that first night as a treat: Diet Coke.

Grandma Hazel was the epitome of unconditional love and grace. I never once heard her raise her voice to anyone. In a multitude of cousins, I was the only girl, and I shared a special bond with her. She was also an excellent home cook – the type who never used a recipe, but made everything by sight, smell, touch, and taste. She would rise on Thanksgiving morning around 4 a.m. to put the turkey in her oven down in the basement, its door held closed by a chair wedged under its handle. When we finally came downstairs for breakfast, she would already be cooking for the crush of family about to descend on her house. My mother would jump into action helping her, and one by one, our favorite dishes would be created. I wish I could list all of those great dishes, but I know for sure there was mashed potatoes, both pumpkin and apple pies, and our family’s favorite: noodles.

These are not the kind of noodles one might think of when they think of pasta. Though the dough shares the same properties, these noodles (simply called “noodles”) are as wide and thick as a finger, and thrown into a huge pot of boiling chicken broth, seasoned heavily with salt and pepper. This simple, easy dish doesn't look like much, but oh – the taste! Like creamy dumplings, but better. Slightly firm to the first bite but completely tender on the finish. This dish is legendary in my family.

In those days, the family would descend, and my brother and I would play with our younger cousins until we sat down to eat around noon. We would feast as though we’d never seen food in our lives, and then we’d all help with the dishes, finally retreating into the family room where my Uncle’s pipe would fill the room with its spicy aroma. The cousins would play out on the front porch, taking turns on the swing until about 5 p.m. Then we’d all troupe back into the kitchen, and out would come the entire meal again. And we’d all tuck in as if we hadn’t just gorged ourselves a few hours earlier. Dishes would be done again, and family members would stagger out into the crisp fall night, bellies distended.

When my Grandma Hazel passed away when I was in the 8th grade, it was a blow to all of us. Thanksgivings from then on were spent with my other grandparents in New Jersey. But there was one similar thing on their table: the noodles. My mother had secured, all those years working side by side with my Grandma Hazel, the recipe for the noodles. And suddenly the noodles took on a whole new life. Suddenly we were not the only ones who dreamt lustily of them when the air grew cold.

My father passed away a month after I graduated high school, and that was the year that my mother passed the torch to me. I was now the keeper of the noodles and all their grandeur. That first Thanksgiving without my father was so difficult – Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. But having those noodles on the table was a comfort. Everything changes, but that dish has remained constant.

I still make the noodles for my family. No matter where we are: Here in Virginia, or even in Hawaii with my husband’s family. My brother even made them in Baton Rouge when he and my sister-in-law couldn’t make it home for the holiday. The noodles are always on the table wherever we are.

As I make the dough, knead it in my hands, and send flour flying all over the kitchen and myself, I feel honored to be a part of something so simple, yet so binding.


Elizabeth said...

Really touching to hear more about your dad's family.

Jenna said...

Thanks Liz! Though it's bittersweet, I really cherish these memories.

Kristen said...

come on share the recipe! :-)

p.s. what a wonderful memory

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