I wish I could remember more about my life before Larry died, when I was 7. I’m able to conjure up playing drive-in across the street with the Beumer girls or the Schmidt kids on the corner. Learning to ride my bike, playing hopscotch, or spending hours in the playhouse Dad built. Just being a little kid. But my most vivid memories, came after his tragic death in 1958.
|Awesome playhouse that Dad built. This is about 1954….|
I assume when we were still a family of 5, we had our holiday meals at home. But soon after Larry’s death, Mona married, and we were suddenly a family of 3. We were in mourning, and our house was very quiet. I think Mona and Ed went to his folk’s farm near Inwood for special occasions. Mom and Dad barely tolerated Ed, but thought highly of Ed’s folks. I wonder why we never were invited to the farm for Thanksgiving? Really, with all those people, what’s another 3 to feed? Maybe we did and Mom declined. She wasn’t always comfortable in large groups. Ed’s family was huge, maybe 8 kids, spouses, nieces and nephews. Ed was the second to the youngest, so his brothers and sisters had scads of kids by the time he and Mona got hitched.
|Dad, Mom, me and Mona at her house in Canton, SD, 1961…|
Mom was a pretty good cook, but besides going out every Saturday night, we mostly ate at home. Still, for the span of about 20 years, I do not remember very many Thanksgiving’s in the house on 15th Street. After I married and finally learned how to cook, I often fixed the turkey at Mom and Dad’s. But for over a decade as a kid, we went out to eat every Thanksgiving. Weird. If Mom was working on that holiday, Dad and I had our usual fare. Swanson’s TV dinners. I always got the turkey, Dad the chopped beef steak. Wonder if Swanson’s played a part in my obsession with cranberry sauce?
|Can’t help it, I’ve loved ’em all my life. Sick, I know…|
We always dressed up when we went out to eat. I associate that with always going to church first. That would justify the fancy clothes for the famous Thursday holiday. But we never, ever went to a restaurant on Sunday. Big, big sin. Stores, restaurants were not supposed to be open on the Lord’s Day. It was wrong to work, or make money on Sunday. Six days shalt thou labor, and on the 7th day, shalt thou rest. Hospitals and nursing homes were exceptions.
|Geez, what a dork! Don’t remember the picture, but surely recognize the fancy Normandy/Sunday dress, about 1960…|
So this small Dutch Gerritson clan would head to Sioux Falls on Thanksgiving Day. To me, it was a very fancy restaurant. Called The Normandy. If we didn’t time it just right, we’d end up standing in a very long line outside. But the wait was always worth it. The food was spectacular. I don’t remember the weather ever being horrible, but Iowa-South Dakota often had some snow by late November, so maybe there were years that the wait was miserable. The downside was no leftovers. How awful is that? One of the perks of roasting a turkey (always with stuffing, the best) is being able to eat it again the next day. Since turkey and all the trimmings is my favorite meal, I would just hate to eat it in a restaurant. But for awhile this was the norm for us. Maybe it was just too painful to try and celebrate thankfulness when your only son was suddenly snatched from this earth. Either way, The Normandy filled a gap.
|This is what the outside of The Normandy looked like on Thanksgiving. I guess others ate out too…|
So holidays were never the same in our house after 1958. No tree for Christmas, no turkey leftovers. But that didn’t mean all holiday traditions were missing from our lives. Mom made great candies, fudge penuche, and divinity. She also had a had this huge thing for cranberries. Just like me. Between mid-November and Christmas, she would buy about a dozen bags of cranberries. Tuck them in their own little niche of our freezer. The freezer (the size of a ’60’s luxury car) was located in an add on haukee (little room), complete with pull on string light bulb, and a step that could break a leg of someone if you didn’t know better. (One of my best blog posts called Steps). We might not have turkey leftovers, but doggone it, we pretty much ate cranberry sauce ALL YEAR LONG.
|Fresh tomatoes, my fave. But cranberry sauce is a close second…|
I’ve always liked a cold side dish with my meal. My absolute favorite is fresh tomatoes, but that delicacy is only available 2 short months a year. I also love pickled beets, bread and butter pickles, or applesauce. But my go to side has always been cranberry sauce. I eat it with anything from steak to tuna casserole and everything in between. So Mom would take 2 bags of (Ocean Spray) cranberries from the freezer. Put 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar in a Dutch oven. Stir until the sugar was dissolved and let that syrup boil for 5 minutes. That was barely enough time for her to scan the 2 bags of cranberries. Mom carefully sorted them. Checking for an errant leaf or tiny stem that was still attached. Touching most of the berries individually for soft spots, or blemishes that would make a difference in the sauce. The best part was when she dumped the berries in the boiling sugar-water. They’d sizzle, squeak and finally start popping as the heated syrup hit them. Mom would cook them for a few minutes. The pan was dark maroon with some pink foam. She’d scrape the foam off into a small dish, then start her inspection. Holding a large spoon, she’d carefully sift through the sauce. Searching for those 7 or 8 berries amongst thousands THAT HAD NOT YET POPPED. All of sudden she’d spot one. Maneuver it over to the side of the pan. Squeeze him between the spoon and the pan, forcing it to pop open. If you ever bit into a cranberry in sauce that had not popped, sucker would make you pucker. For sure. After a thorough inspection, she was assured there were no more hold outs, she’d let the pan cool. We had a Tupperware bowl that held a double bag recipe of this delicious-ness just perfect. So our lives were once again complete. Mom and I would eat some most nights with our supper. Can’t remember Dad ever eating any though.
|3 pounds just starting to cook. Love the pink foam, tho it’s gotta go…|
And I’ve continued this tradition from the onset of my marriage. It might have been the first thing I knew how to cook. You never wanted to have the short cranberry season end if you didn’t have your dozen bags of cranberries frozen snugly to get us each through the year. That would have required intensive therapy. Mom made less and less cranberry sauce as she got older. She never lost her taste for it though. But after she and Dad retired, they ate out more often. She just wasn’t cooking as much at home.
|One batch ready to be jarred and a water bath. So pretty. And good…|
None of my kids got on the cranberry craze bandwagon either. Really out of 3 kids, what are the odds? Shannon eats it for Thanksgiving, but Josh or Adam, nope. Got to keep praying, one of the grandkids inherits my love of all things cranberry.
|There’s my usual side of cranberry sauce…|
But I’m not buying bags for the freezer anymore either. I love to buy and peruse old cookbooks. I get them at estate sales.
|A neat canning cookbook I use often…|
This cookbook isn’t even very old. Maybe from the ’70’s. Better Homes and Gardens Canning Cookbook. On page 23, I spotted it. Canning whole cranberry sauce. Now why didn’t I ever think of that? Of course you should be able to can it.
|The recipe that changed my cranberry life…|
Now I buy 6 pounds of fresh and can 2 batches each fall. By myself, I eat about a pint a month. There, I’ve said it. Not ashamed either. It has made me realize that I really dislike any change in my life. I made cranberry sauce the same way for 30 years. Now I love canning it. And I try really hard to buy cranberries that are grown in Michigan. Sorry Ocean Spray. Though I think some of the Michigan growers sell to Ocean Spray. I just eliminate the step of trucking them several states away to be processed and packaged, only to be shipped back into Michigan to be sold. That’s dumb.
|This here is a wonderful thing…|
A couple words about change. I still do many things the way Mom did them. I make penuche and fudge with the recipes from her grandmother Berghuis. My Mom and her twin brother lost their mom, my grandma Coba, when they were just a few days old. Raise by their paternal grandparents, the Wanningen’s, they still spent a lot of time with their maternal ones too, the Berghuis’. Effie Berghuis would often make fudge with mom when she was a little girl. On a Sunday afternoon. Scandalous. Simple recipes, but still a bit more work. Timing is always critical in the soft ball stage of fudge and penuche. Thirty seconds can be the difference between a beautiful batch or beating that crap for a half hour because it will not set up. Still tastes good though. I can attest to that-often with my failures.
|Effie Berghuis, Mom’s Sunday fudge making gram…|
For the past several years, our former neighbor’s in North Muskegon, Dale and Carol have brought over a huge plate of fudge every Thanksgiving. When our youngest granddaughter Peyton, (now 11) was about 3, she had consumed her fair share of Dale fudge. She drew him a picture of thanks and trotted down to their house. Without prompting she said, “could I have this recipe for my mom please?” She looked forward to ‘Dale’s Fudge’ more than she did Christmas presents. When our house finally sold in August, the first words out of her mouth were, “but you’re not moving until after Thanksgiving and Dale Fudge are you?” Alas we were gone by Labor Day. So a couple days ago, I dug out his recipe, bought the necessary ingredients to make sure Peyton has Dale fudge this year. You know what? I felt guilty the whole time I was making it. How bizarre is that? Like I was being unfaithful to my Mom and great grandma. I didn’t feel that way when I started canning cranberry sauce as opposed freezing and cooking batches throughout the year. I’m sorry Mom and great grandma Berghuis, I will from this day forward continue to make fudge from your old recipe.
|Effie Berghuis Fudge recipe. When made right, it’s hard to beat…|
We are creatures of habit. Our son Adam was helping us again this week. As I drove down our street a few days ago, I realized we were about the only place on the block still with all of our fallen leaves. Well, we have been busy. It’s not my thing, and Hubs has been sick or hurt for the last 2 stinking months. Our lawn tractor has been in Adam’s garage for almost 3 months. John still has high hopes that our recent foot of snow will melt (it is) so he can suck up the leaves and get rid of them. Once again we will be able hold our heads high. Not too high, as our lawn has but 3 blades of real grass. But we’ll tackle that little issue this spring. John and Adam had the tractor unloaded, and were moving furniture around so I can finally get my Jeep in the garage. After moving a couple pieces down the basement, Adam walked through the house. Looking around he said, “mom, it’s starting to look just like your other house in here.” Exactly I thought, smiling to myself…