Memoir Contest Winner, Honorable Mention for Shaking Up Thanksgiving by Susan Nye

by Matilda Butler on September 16, 2010

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #55 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Kendra and I are pleased to publish Susan Nye’s story and recipe that received an honorable mention in our April Memoir Contest–KitchenScraps Category. You’ll enjoy her story of family, friends, and traditions — how to make them and when to keep them.

We’re a little early for Thanksgiving, but this should give you plenty of time to test her wonderful recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and for writing about your own Thanksgiving traditions. What a special treat it would be for you to share your story with family this Thanksgiving day.

Congratulations Susan.

Shaking Up Thanksgiving
By Susan Nye

I come from a pretty traditional New England family and tradition has its rules. We don’t wear white after Labor Day. We open our presents on Christmas morning, not Christmas eve. And we certainly don’t get clever with Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe I should say most of us don’t get clever with Thanksgiving dinner.

Nana W, Bess, and Nana N.

Nana W, Bess, and Nana N.

For decades, the Thanksgiving menu on our table never changed. The cuisine was never nouvel. Nothing was ever flambé-ed or gratiné-ed or put en chemise. Our turkey was never rubbed with Cajun spices, lightly painted with a mustard-maple glaze or deep fried. The Pilgrims didn’t have wasabi in their mashed potatoes and neither did we.

First my great-grandmothers, then my grandmothers and finally my mother cooked the same tried-and-true Thanksgiving dishes. That’s a lot of years of boiled and mashed squash and turnips, creamed onions, mashed potatoes and roast turkey with bread stuffing. Sometime in the ‘70s my mother went a little crazy and started to put a chopped apple in the stuffing.

When I was twenty-something I moved to Switzerland. Even half a world away from Plimoth Plantation, skipping Thanksgiving was unthinkable. I invited a dozen friends for dinner and promised them an authentic, New England Thanksgiving. In the middle of consulting the Joy of Cooking and making a few transatlantic phone calls I made an obvious but still astonishing discovery. I was going to serve my new friends a brown dinner. Brown turkey, brown gravy, brown stuffing, even the apple pie, was brown. The only dash of color was the cranberry sauce. Wait a minute, back up the train! Why on earth would anyone eat jam with turkey?

Thanksgiving TurkeyThe new kid in town, one of only two Americans in the office, I was about to serve a bunch of Europeans a brown dinner with jam. But I had promised authentic so in I plunged. A poultry farm in Arkansas shipped frozen turkeys to Switzerland and there were plenty of apples, potatoes and pumpkins in the market. I chopped and stirred. I peeled and mashed. I stuffed, I trussed and I basted.

In spite of my nervousness, the dinner was a great success. My guests saw the evening as a cultural experience, an anthropological adventure and enjoyed every bite. We talked about pilgrims, pumpkins and politics and shared a little office gossip. Far and away, it was the lively conversation that made the dinner a hit.

That was the last time I served my grandmothers’ Thanksgiving dinner. Living abroad, unfettered by family expectations, I stopped boiling squash and skipped the creamed onions. Instead, I discovered wild mushrooms and served them in soup. I put wild rice and walnuts in the stuffing. I experimented with pumpkin mousse and apple tarts. I stayed in Switzerland for almost two decades and Thanksgiving Dinner became one of my trademarks. The menu changed a bit from year to year but the end result was always a delicious autumnal feast albeit a distant cousin to my grandmothers’ tables.

John and Charlotte

John and Charlotte

When I moved back to New Hampshire I offered to host the family Thanksgiving Dinner. My sister and sister-in-law had been feeding me Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners for years. I figured it was time to step up and take on one of the big family celebrations.

While I was delighted to be hosting my family for Thanksgiving, they were a bit wary. Throughout the month of November I received phone calls from my brother. He was concerned that I might get a little too creative with dinner. Even my sister, the non-conformist, called to check on my plans and offer warnings. In both cases, they blamed their concerns on their children, explaining, “My kids won’t eat anything funky or French.” My parents were both quiet, just happy that someone else was cooking.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

I evaded my siblings’ questions and comments but assured them that snails were not on the menu. I did not let on that many traditional New England dishes had disappeared from my Thanksgiving table. I was looking forward to sharing my updated fare with my family.

How did they take it, my nouvel New England cuisine? Let’s just say that the next year a compromise was reached. My mother’s stuffing went back in the turkey, roasted butternut squash was in the soup pot and my brother took charge of the potatoes!

Squash SoupRoasted Butternut Squash Soup
Kids and adults both love this soup. Roasting the vegetables gives it a rich, deep flavor. Not just for holidays, I make it throughout the fall and winter. Enjoy!

Serves 8 to 12

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 large potato, about 8 ounces, cut into chunks
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium onions, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup half and half (optional)
Fresh chopped chives, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the vegetables, herbs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a large roasting pan– toss to coat. Roast for 45 minutes.
  2. Add the white wine to the pan. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes more.
  3. Let the vegetables cool for about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Working in batches, puree the vegetables with a little chicken stock in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  4. Put the squash puree into a large soup pot. Add the remaining chicken stock. Reheat slowly on the stove top and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the half and half, reheat until piping hot. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.

Can be made in advance through step 4. Cover and store in the refrigerator (or even the freezer), bring to a simmer and continue with step 5.

Susan Nye lives in New Hampshire and is a regular contributor to several New England magazines and newspapers. She writes about family, friendship and food and shares many of her favorite recipes on her weekly blog at © Susan W. Nye, 2010

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