Clear As Cranberry Sauce

By Anna Mitchael

Flying by the seats of our pilgrim pants

Pictured: Art by Karen Manganillo, @diorama_mama

Every year around this time I start to get a little nervous because Thanksgiving is one of those subjects where I am certain half my knowledge is now considered, shall we say, backwards and degenerate. As someone who lives in rural Texas, those terms don’t ruffle my feathers (it comes with the territory, one could say). I worry more about confusing my kids. Instead of leading with misinformation — “Are the pilgrims still good guys?” — I pretend to take a back seat and dig around with the kind of questions you, me and everyone we know hated getting from our mothers.

My oldest son, bless his heart, is only a preschooler, but already he shows signs of employing the excellent communication skills men have used since caveman times, when one grunt could mean so many things: yes, maybe, later, and if you’ll excuse me I’m going to the restroom. Because of this lack of communication — and because my book on tape called How To Cajole Children Into Conversation (For Dummies!) has not yet arrived — it looks like I will spend a significant portion of this festive season in the dark. If I accidentally say Indian instead of Native American, will my son wonder why I clearly fell off the turnip truck?

Speaking of turnips, have they replaced corn at the retellings of that first Thanksgiving Day, now that we’ve decided corn is such a big, scary, starch monster? Are the pilgrims one brim of a cockle hat away from being banished forever from the happy history books?

Another area that seems foggier than a vat of spicy apple rum punch is the question of how many balsamic-braised cipollini onions to serve with your Thanksgiving spread this year. I’m going to shoot straight: My gut reaction on this one is zero. Nil. Nada. But when I broached the topic with friends last year, admitting that my all-time favorite Thanksgiving side dish was a baked asparagus casserole that uses not only condensed cream of mushroom soup but also plain potato chips (no kettle-cooked, no epicurean brand, just tater discs deep-fried in oil made from the shards of scary, starch monsters) these friends, people with whom I give and receive birthday presents every year and to whom I would entrust the care of my children, collectively turned and looked at me as though I were (this is where we recall our rural vocabulary words from earlier) a backwards degenerate.

Does anyone else remember when it was a very clear-cut thing to be a snob? Snobs were people who liked to point out that their handbags were better than other people’s handbags. They were people who wouldn’t hang out with you unless your name came with a six-digit country club identification number for charging a few beers before you turned the back nine. They were the people who got tight-lipped and screw-faced if they discovered the family next door regularly drove through McDonald’s.

But now everything’s changed. Food snobbery gets two thumbs up, and I, for one, wish we could go back to the old days (at least on Thanksgiving Day). Days when being any kind of a snob was undesirable. Especially if said snobbery cast doubt upon a recipe your mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and grandmothers made since way before condensed cream of mushroom turned soup into a four-letter word.

I guess the good news is that at least the day-of turkey can be clean-cut. All we’ve got to do is get to the grocer’s freezer, find a Butterball, then throw that bad boy in the oven … though a brine might do that body good … and there is the option of deep-frying versus the traditional roast … also the ol’ faithful turducken has been circling my mind … and of course we need a side of soy bird for the herbivores among us.