Thanksgiving Day 2015 has moved into the history books. The dishes are done. Families have gone back to their own places in their communities. Many of us are gearing up for the holiday season, which could mean Pagan traditions revisited, Yuletide festivities, Kwanzaa, or perhaps the celebration that is Hanukkah. When celebrating, as with Thanksgiving, food will often be a central piece. During these times of celebrating, often the food of one day remains to celebrate the next day, the next day, and the next.
As a regular occurrence, when my father was alive and my siblings were still at home, I don’t recall having leftovers. It may be that my mother was so great at planning the quantity of food she would need at any given meal and her not wanting to waste food. I think it was more of the fact that her culinary creations were irresistible. I do recall her saying “Eat up! I don’t want any leftovers!” spurring my brothers into heartily indulging her wishes. My mother’s eyes would be shining, as she watched everyone enjoying the spread. She would protest my brother’s fighting over the last biscuit (something of which no one could ever get enough). I know she enjoyed the compliment. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, observing while sitting back in her chair, napkin in her lap with hands gracefully folded in place. It was no accident her spot at the table was at the entrance of the dining room into the kitchen. At the slightest mention of some food item being gone, she would either express regrets she hadn’t made enough or jump up and immediately refill, as if by magic, the offending food vessel. While the food was not as plentiful after my father passed, she still maintained that magic.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were a different story.
There were always leftovers. I believe this was my mother’s calculated risk that she may revisit the previous day’s oooh’s and aah’s. My favorite memory is of fresh raisin bread, as the foundation of open-faced turkey sandwiches over the next several days. Between the bread and turkey, I would add stuffing and cranberry sauce, (in those days, we smartly were not aware of “carbs” as a food category) pouring rich, flavorful gravy on top of the delicious mound. Rendezvousing with the memory of the tastes and smells of the previous bountiful meal, I would have thoughts of “this is what Heaven must be like”! Recalling those moments, my mouth waters today.
Like my mother, I enjoy the compliment of moans and groans as a byproduct of full tummies, as well as exclamations from my son and his siblings, as they lay claim to the mashed potatoes and gravy! However, as a throwback to the days of personal food insecurity, I have a pang of discomfort that the food will spoil before it can all be eaten and so I endeavor to make “just enough”. Leftovers occur when my definition of “just enough” is more than can be accommodated by the eaters. I must have some element of my mother’s culinary gene, as I have never heard complaints from serving leftovers. Indeed, I more often hear the mournful query “Where are the leftovers”?
Food leftovers are the remains of what has been (not to be mistaken with the current HBO series!) While sometimes, “what has been” may not be such a good thing, whether you’re speaking of the reason for the food or the food itself, it is what it is. It is food. Consider, if the first occasion was not so good, you are being offered an opportunity for redemption! The term is fairly new, not surfacing until around the turn of the twentieth century, coming into full fashion sometime in the 1930s–1950s when it was a thing for middle-class cooks to trick eaters into eating food remains, thereby showing off their culinary skills!
Growing up in the ’80s, my son-in-law shared with me that his mother threw out leftovers. Perhaps, she hadn’t heard of Ruth Berolzheimer’s “500 Delicious Dishes from Leftovers” (1940). Culinary Arts Institute has republished it and can no doubt be found through your local bookstore. It covers bread, cake, meat, eggs, etc. Today we are once again becoming more conscious of food waste. It might be a good time to again make leftovers cool and think of it as a challenge to come up with a new creation from yesterday’s humble remains.