My traditional Thanksgiving Day recipe is special and important to me in a complicated manner, so there’ll be a bit of background before we get to the food. Trust me, though — this recipe is simple and delicious, and worth the boring life story bit.
When I was growing up, until around age 12 or so, I had an extensive family unit. I lived with my maternal grandparents as an only child, but my mother and four brothers and sisters, along with my grandparents’ other two children and their children (thirteen to sixteen kids in all depending on the year), saw each other all the time. We all lived in the same city, relatively near and most adhered to a faith that, despite my other issues with it, formed a deep sense of familial belonging and community. Of course, the dark currents that run beneath the surface aren’t seen by children. In the course of a couple years, the family shattered.
My aunt and uncle of one family got a divorce following an affair by my uncle (most of us sided with him in the end for many various reasons, including myself). Another aunt — my grandfather’s eldest daughter — didn’t speak to us for years, suddenly, without explanation (I still don’t fully understand, but as a family pariah because of my rejection of Mormonism it doesn’t matter at this point). I was kicked out of my grandparents’ house for my rebellious attitude toward authoritarian discipline (at 13) and began living with my mother. My mom, my wonderful, eccentric, brilliant, quirky mother, was the one I moved in with. The reason I didn’t live with her previously is because she sent me — and my two older sisters — to live with my grandparents while she recovered from drug addiction when I was less than two. Several years later, my sisters moved back to her, but I chose to stay with my grandparents.
My mom’s house was vastly different. She has her faults, but I view love as the most important part of parenting, and in love she abounds. Living at my mom’s house I gained another, different, perspective on community and the family bonds. We had a much closer family unit, and living with a single parent with a broken extended family can give a heightened sense of bonds because of the recognizance of the potential fragility of such bonds.
On to Thanksgiving. Previously, holidays such as this and Christmas Eve dinner (my family has never done Christmas dinner, preferring to retreat to our particular enclaves and smaller family units for the day itself) were a huge and somewhat grandiose affair. Now, though, they weren’t — a few friends and family. When it comes to dinner, we are somewhat traditional. Turkey (smoked is best in my opinion, because it can be such an awfully dry bird), sometimes a ham in addition, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pies (several kinds preferred), sparkling cider (a remnant from nonalcoholic Mormon days), crescent rolls, sugared sweet potatoes/yams, etc — and fruit salad. Fruit salad is where we get somewhat unique. The recipe is extremely simple and amazingly good.
What do you like in your fruit salad? I like to use fruit cocktail, canned mandarin oranges and fresh fruit such as apples, bananas and sometimes grapes. Toss in some whipped cream, and you’ve got a fruit salad! However, in my family we add one simple ingredient to elevate this mix into new levels of deliciousness: a packet of instant vanilla pudding mix. Don’t make the pudding. Just stir the mix in with everything else. We call it “House Salad” because we started it one year after learning the recipe from my mother’s boyfriend’s family at the time. Enjoy!
One more thing. Am I the only one that is annoyed by all the calorie counts on the television news channels when they get to the human interest bits? Don’t try to make my guilt-free day guilty. I have two days a year to eat myself into a coma, and I plan on fully enjoying them no matter the consequences (well not quite, but still).