In many ways, this Thanksgiving was like any other. My mom made stuffing with Mrs. Cubbison’s seasoned mix, heeding our menfolk’s solemn requests to not “skimp on the sausage”. We served canned cranberry sauce for the sake of tradition, and a home-made pomegranate-cranberry compote that was so delicious I’m planning to refine the recipe and post it here. As always, there was more of my from-scratch version left over than there were gelatinous ridged slices. I made sure that kale and Brussels sprouts graced the table, going so far as to sneak Brussels sprouts chips onto the appetizer spread. I always go a little rogue with the vegetables.
But what I didn’t see coming was Papa (grandfather) turning down two varieties of my baked-from-scratch pie…for a Hershey’s bar.
I rose early Thanksgiving morning, blending chilled butter and cold water into flour and rolling out two crusts while a butternut squash roasted in the oven. As the bitter aroma of morning coffee tangled with that of the sweet squash, I toasted and chopped pecans and blind-baked the crusts with foil-lined beds of dry rice to keep the pastry from warping. I made the custards – one pumpkin (err, butternut squash) and one pecan – adding a little of this and a little of that to two bubbling pots that threatened to boil over at the slightest sign of inattention.
While I lovingly smoothed the top of the butternut squash pie and snacked on a candied pecan or two, my mom was in her craft room, laboring over another family holiday tradition: the costumed-candy-as-name-placard.
For every holiday dinner, my exceedingly creative mom dreams up a new way to tell everyone where to sit. Much to the delight of our dinner guests, there’s usually candy involved. And this year, she went big time and used full-size Hershey’s bars cloaked in paper pilgrim costumes.
That night, after everyone had their fill of turkey et al., Mom and I whisked away the plates and set to whipping cream to top the pies. With a flourish of pomp and circumstance, we deposited the pies on the table just inches in front of Papa – who, much to my amusement, was a square or two away from polishing off his Hershey’s. The pilgrim’s hat lay crumpled next to his napkin.
I thought he’d be thrilled with my pies. Never before had I been given the honor of holiday pie duty! Certain he’d want a slice of both, I asked him anyway. “No pie!” he said. “I can’t fit another bite.”
Temporarily crestfallen, I pressed him. “I made them myself!” I implored. “The crust, the butternut squash puree, the pecan custard…”
I had hardly finished bestowing praise on my pies before he responded with a resolute “I don’t care!” and the last bite of his Hershey’s. As best I can remember, until then Papa had never rejected anything I’d said, made, or done. His sweet tooth is outrageous. These things should have worked in my favor, but this Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for Papa and his peculiarities.
Papa’s 89. His days are measured by happy hours at his retirement home, visits from my mom, and good meals. I could learn a thing or two from him about how to live, and at age 89, he knows what he likes. Even if it’s a Hershey’s bar. In about a month’s time my desserts will be put to the test once again. If past Christmas dinners are any bellwether of those to come, my dessert nemesis will likely come in the form of a Snickers bar-cum-snowman, a miniature present box filled with hard red candies, or a wee sleigh carrying a load of M&Ms. I’ve got my whisk and my apron, and I’m ready.