For some families politics is a Thanksgiving dinner conversation third rail. For others it’s religion or money. In mine, it’s change. Some families thrive on it, craving a constant new. Mine, however feel change is best conducted at geologic rate.
We are particularly fond of tradition – and with good reason. My Mom is one of seven, a crowd which ultimately grew into Thanksgivings with nearly 40 people surrounding two large tables. Each year we ate the same meal my Mom and her brothers and sisters grew up eating. The turkey, well past twenty pounds, was cooked in a brown paper bag with stuffing inside. Made with giblets that only Uncle Steve would eat, there was always a small dish of stuffing heated separately in the oven for my cousin Stephen Nicholas (distinguished from cousin Stephen Griffin).
Peas with pearl onions we defrosted and heated through. Their was puréed squash, only slightly sweetened for a reserved New England palate, and green beans. Aunt Ali made her cranberry mold, possibly my favorite dish on the table, but there was always a can opened and sliced, served on the same heavy leaded glass dish every year, for Uncle John and my brother Alec.
Dessert included pumpkin and apple pies, but everyone was really there for Auntie Steve’s near legendary Rum Chiffon. If there was anything we coveted more it was Aunt Jane’s coffee cake which would appear the next morning for breakfast.
The meal ended with box of After Eight mints laid out on a plate in their individual brown paper wrappers. After naps and conversation we’d begin wandering back into the kitchen where several loafs of rye bread appeared for a late night turkey sandwich, spread thinly with mayo and topped with lettuce and Cabot cheddar.
The first new dish I remember was Aunt Sandy’s broccoli cheese casserole which appeared in a covered dish. Aunt Sandy had married my youngest uncle, Dave. If you come from a large family, you know that marrying in is a fraught venture at it’s best. The first addition to a deeply traditional meal was no different. Everyone stared at this strange, new addition to the buffet which had not seen a new dish in decades. Polite helpings were added to each plate and graciously commented on. Everyone reacted the same way they do to the first boy who shows up with an earring, or the biker boyfriend you date just to piss off your parents. They are polite and assume things will resolve themselves by the next year.
However, Aunt Sandy’s broccoli casserole never went away, just like my cousin Mike’s earrings. And, while we may be slow to change, once it’s clear you’re sticking around, my family couldn’t be more welcoming.
So, this is my long way of saying, “I understand,” change can be hard. But, if you’re up for it, here’s a new dish for your table this year. The squash is still seasonal, and the molasses an American classic. If the soy and ginger are a bridge too far just keep quiet. They’ll come to love it over time.
Mary’s Ginger Molassas Butternut Squash
Mary came to my Eastern Market cooking demos every weekend for the better part of a year. Starting in late August she began asking me to show her how to cook butternut squash. I finally created this recipe for her and made it during my final demo of the season the last Saturday before Thanksgiving. Mary never came that week and I have not seen her since. I hope this recipe finds it way to her and to her table.
- 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 3 tbs butter
- 1” ginger, minced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1 tbs parsley minced
- 1/3 cup Calvados*
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 2 tbs soy sauce
- Cider vinegar
*Calvados is apple brandy. You can also use regular brandy – preferably VSOP.
- Steam squash until firm, but easily pierced with a paring knife, about 15 minutes.*
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat.
- Add ginger and shallot and sauté until soft and golden. Add parsley and cook one additional minute.
- Add Calvados and cook until reduced to a thick syrup.
- Add molasses and soy sauce and cook, stirring, until blended to a thick sauce.
- Toss squash with sauce to warm through.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of cider vinegar.
*If you want to make this for a big meal like Thanksgiving, steam the squash ahead of time and when it is still firm but easily pierced with a knife, transfer it to an ice bath (a bowl of half ice and half water) until cool. Drain and refrigerate until ready to make the sauce. Reheat the squash in the sauce and serve.