In Praise of Bad Cooking and Good Mothers: A Thanksgiving Memory


I've never been a big fan of Halloween -- I don't scare easy and I don't believe in ghosts, not the spooky kind. Ah, but Thanksgiving! My favorite holiday; one filled with the real ghosts of my childhood. My mother Lilly -- movie star beautiful, generous, kindly -- would roll up the sleeves of her floral printed housedress, put on a clean ironed apron and meet this holiday as her great culinary challenge: that awesome and awful Thanksgiving dinner. And I would watch her in wonder during my childhood in the nineteen thirties and forties.The first order of business was dealing with the turkey from hell, sent to us live in New York City in a crate by my mother's crazy joker of a younger brother, Albert, who lived upstate near the Canadian border. Less a gift than a curse, the bird was exiled to our bathtub for a week, clucking away, fed birdseed and always on the verge of becoming a pet rather than a feast before being snuck out of our house by my father to meet his fate at the local butcher.

When finally presented at the feast the creature was so overcooked by my mother, who didn't believe in timing her cooking, that it had become mummified enough to be worthy of an archeological exhibition. The corpse was surrounded with a neat row of sliced canned cranberry slabs, a culinary sarcophagus. A pile of store bought soft sugary rolls nestled nearby.

Sweet potatoes with half melted marshmallows inside were passed about, and wintery-pale pink sliced tomatoes resting on a cold crunch of iceberg lettuce were offered as sides, while a dish of defrosted Birds Eye creamed spinach (be still my heart) was followed at last by scoops of Rushmeyer's ice-cream fit for any hungry pilgrim.

There was not a dish or a pot in our home that was not used in making that meal. Each contributed to the creation of the overcooked and the underdone. My mother, a truly marvelous woman, was, as I have suggested, an awful cook. And I dare say that was a small part of what made her so marvelous. Continued...