This week I drove home from New Hampshire in a nasty snow and rain combination. It wasn’t fun, but my current favorite radio station had started playing Christmas songs around the clock that very day. How lucky can a girl be hearing some of her favorite Christmas carols as big fat snowflakes emphatically fell and piled up on her car’s hood? It took the edginess off the other-wise white-knuckle experience of navigating a slippery I-95 passageway.
As I drove along, I thought of the upcoming months and their accompanying celebrations. I was raised with traditional Thanksgiving dinners and rockin’ around Christmas trees while Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra filled the air with Christmas carols. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen “White Christmas”. Carols and Christmas movies go well with mugs of eggnog and cuts of dried salami.
Traditions pave the way forward as well as provide a roadmap of where we’ve been. It can be fun to forge new ones, as well as be a labor of love. They can tie families and communities together. Holidays often find us hanging on to the past while reaching out to the future. Food helps smooth that part of our journey.
I came across an archived, 1970’s Amtrak Thanksgiving menu. They had served spiced apple rings, along with stuffed olives and red pepper relish, constituting a “Holliday Relish Tray. I don’t see relish trays on dinner tables much these days. I loved gherkins and spiced, chopped pickles. You know, the kind with onions and cauliflower.
Also on the Amtrak menu was Pumpkin Pie Chantilly. It sounds fancy, but all “Chantilly” means is whipping cream with sugar and vanilla. The term was coined for Chantilly, France, noted for its fabulous whipped cream. Whipped cream compliments butterscotch pie, too. I’ll include my recipe at the end.
When my children were small, Thanksgiving Day usually meant enactment of the Thanksgiving poem, “Over the River and Through the Wood” as we crossed the Sandy River and made our way to grandmother’s home in the New Vineyard mountains.
“Hurray for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hooray for the Pumpkin Pie!” Gramma’s dinner meant, among other foods, hot from the oven, raisin bread. Into the evening following dinner, we’d take a slice of raisin bread, layer on slices of leftover turkey, and ladle gravy over it all. The love of a grandmother is shown when she makes a gallon of gravy because her granddaughter asked.
I was at my brother’s home in Pennsylvania one Thanksgiving. Following my mother’s passing, it had become a tradition for us to go to Pennsylvania where all the cousins could congregate. I was making the dinner, so my sister-in-law could work and then have Christmas off with her grandbabies. I made gravy from the drippings in the bottom of the turkey roaster pan. I added water, thickener, and wine and briskly stirred it into a gravy over medium heat. My sister-in-law made gravy when she arrived home. She melted a stick of butter into chicken broth, added a thickener, and served it alongside the marshmallow topped, pecan encrusted, sweet potato. In the midst of one banquet, two traditions coming together.
As promised, my Butterscotch Pie Filling. Worth the effort!
4 Tbsp. salted butter ¾ c light brown organic sugar (tightly packed) 1 ½ c whole milk 1 c heavy cream (the fat is needed for it to set well)
5 Tbsp. arrowroot 4 lrg. egg yolks 1 ½ teas vanilla
Add the butter and sugar to a 2 qt. saucepan and melt over medium heat, constantly stirring until the sugar has melted and just begins to boil. Continue boiling and stirring for 1 min.
Remove the saucepan from the heat source. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and pour about 1/3 c of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and whisk until blended. Add this to the mixture in the saucepan. Return to the medium heat. Bring back to a boil, constantly stirring until temp comes to 170 °F (the ideal temp for a pudding pie filling to set). It’s essential to keep stirring it to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour into a bowl. Cover immediately with plastic wrap and gently press to the pudding surface to prevent a film from forming on top. Cool to room temp. Remove plastic wrap. Pour into baked pie shell (cookie or pastry). Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight. Top with Chantilly cream.