Touches of observed traditions, whether sights, sounds, or tastes, provide the continuity on which our holiday memories are strung. Each family has its own observances: traditional centerpieces, music, sequences, rituals - even who sits in what chair at the dining room table becomes meaningful when repeated year after year. But whether they are simple and sweet, or elaborately prepared, nothing is more affecting than the traditional holiday dishes we serve.
In my family, Thanksgiving means making the prerequisite green bean casserole, a dish that requires dumping the contents of three cans into a baking dish, and has my sons convinced that I'm a culinary master.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Former Tisbury schoolteacher Wiet Bacheller of Vineyard Haven has a similarly important holiday recipe. "I first made it in 1966, when I was teaching in Fort Osage in Independence, Missouri. My colleagues wanted to share their American traditions, knowing I was going to marry an American (now-retired Edgartown School assistant principal John Bacheller).
So the native of the island of Java, Indonesia, began serving Five Cup Salad at holiday meals. "For the past 40 years, I have used the same cut glass bowl to serve it in that was given to us at our wedding," she says. "Once my children were old enough, three or four, it was fun for them to mix and help garnish it. It made them feel like big contributors to the family feast."
Ms. Bacheller describes the side dish as "sweet, very pretty, and very unhealthy." She has modified the recipe, but says, "I never stop feeling guilty when I serve this, but everybody expects it."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Wiet Bacheller's Five Cup Salad
1/2 cup of sweetened, grated coconut
1 cup sour cream (vanilla yogurt can be substituted)
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple (packed in water) fully drained.
3 11-ounce cans of mandarin oranges (in light syrup) fully drained.
12 or more red, well-drained maraschino cherries
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix gently.
Transfer into a pretty serving dish, smooth the top and place the orange sections on top. Make a border with the cherries and mint leaves for accents. Cover, refrigerate and serve with meal as a side dish.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Ms. Bacheller notes: "I usually drain the fruit in a colander, then cover and refrigerate overnight, making sure that at least 24 or more mandarin sections are whole and not mixed in with the pineapple. I like to arrange the mandarin sections as petals and create flowers. Also, the maraschinos can each be partially cut to make small, red flowers. The mint leaves will do the rest."
Rosemary Stimola, a literary agent who divides her time between West Tisbury and New Jersey, started serving her special Thanksgiving soup in 1995, after she closed her popular children's bookstore (A Child's Story) in Teaneck, N.J.
"Until then, there was no time for special food preparation," she says. "But once we had more time, we cooked. This recipe is a hearty, stick-to-your ribs dish and easy to make."
Photo by Michael Stimola
Rosie's Thanksgiving Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup (Serves 8)
5 large carrots (approx 1 lb.), trimmed and peeled
2 large sweet potatoes (approx 2 lbs.), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cups chicken broth. You can substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock and make this soup vegetarian. It's just as good.
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Dice one of the carrots into small pieces. Cut the remaining carrots into 1-inch pieces. Combine the diced carrots and 1 cup of the chicken broth in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until carrots are tender. Drain, reserving carrots and stock separately.
Process the remaining carrots and sweet potatoes in three batches with metal blade of a food processor until coarsely chopped (15-18 pulses for each batch). Combine the chopped vegetables with the reserved carrot poaching broth and the rest of the chicken broth in a large stockpot. Bring to boil, reduce heat and partially cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender (30-35 minutes).
Strain soup into a large bowl and process vegetables in two batches with the metal blade until puréed (about 15 seconds). Return the puréed vegetables to the stockpot with broth and whisk until well blended. Gently heat the soup, adding heavy cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Simmer, whisking often, for 10-15 minutes. Divide the reserved cooked, diced carrots evenly among eight individual soup bowls. Pour the hot soup over the carrots and serve immediately.
Vineyard Haven resident Doris Clark, owner of Event Day Coordination, would not prepare a Thanksgiving meal without making her cranberry sauce. "My husband is a cranberry sauce freak," she says, laughing. She describes her recipe as "trial and error, a little of this and a little of that - all the things my family likes."
Photo by Sam Decker
Doris Clark's Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
1 bag of fresh cranberries (12 oz.)
2 tbsp grated orange zest Juice-from zested orange
2 tsp grated lemon zest Juice from zested lemon
1 cup of sugar
1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp cornstarch
(Variations: add tablespoon fresh minced ginger instead of ground, or ½ cup of toasted nuts, walnuts, pecans, etc., or ½ cup crushed pineapple.)
In a medium-sized sauce pan, stir together the cranberries, orange and lemon zest, orange and lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, 2 cups of water, cinnamon, ginger, salt over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 minutes until the cranberries start to pop, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining half cup of water and whisk to combine completely. Add cornstarch mixture to the pan; reduce heat to medium, then stir constantly until the mixture thickens (about 2 minutes). Add more sugar to taste. Cool completely and refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups.
Since the 1970s, 88-year-old Helen Valentzas of Oak Bluffs has always made peanut butter balls during the holidays. Much to the delight of her family and friends, she makes hundreds of the little balls and gives batches of them away. "Everybody loves them, but we like them too," she says.
Photo by Eleni Collins
Helen Valentzas' Peanut Butter Balls (Makes 70-80 pieces)
1 bag of Nestlé's milk chocolate chips
1 lb. confectionary sugar, sifted
1 stick margarine, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
18 oz. creamy peanut butter (Skippy)
1/3 bar canning wax
Mix peanut butter and margarine together and add it to sugar. Knead it with hands (do not use machine). Add vanilla. Roll into a big ball. Cut off slices and roll it on hard table. Cut off little pieces and roll into small balls. Put on large tray in refrigerator.
Melt chocolate chips in double boiler. Add canning wax. Mix vigorously with spoon. Let simmer on stove. Making six at a time, take peanut butter balls out of refrigerator and dip with a toothpick into chocolate. Take toothpicks out, cover hole with a dab of chocolate, store in cool place.