Untraditional Tradition

We now find ourselves in the midst of the season which is filled more, perhaps, than any other with family traditions. While, as I write this column, I am still anticipating the feast preparation, as you read this, Thanksgiving is a fond memory, as we finish off the last of the leftovers. Soon to follow are the Christmas holidays and New Years. In the matter of a few weeks, we will once again pass through the holidaze. That period of time, which is replete with our yearly family gatherings and their traditions, is the stuff of which our memories are made.

I guess it is safe to state that I am truly a traditionalist. If insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result, then I suppose that the height of sanity would be tradition--when one repeats the same process over and over hoping to obtain the same result. The aim of Thanksgiving, which I think may be my family’s favorite holiday, is, of course, to produce “the best turkey ever”. That feast, which is the centerpiece of the holiday, is, in my mind, the embodiment of tradition, something I have produced enough times that it proceeds on auto pilot.

Inevitably, it is at this time of the year that my spouse will suggest that we actually change an element in that traditional celebration. It can be a very simple, well-intentioned suggestion, something as innocuous as, “This year let’s replace the candied turnips with this great recipe for parsnips that I saw in Healthy Living”, but in my mind it smacks of blasphemy. When there is a formula that has been a success for decades, one shouldn’t tinker with tradition. That is even truer when we are discussing my traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. This is not to say that I am absolutely immune to change. Sometimes change can be good. Sometimes change is necessary, but if we want to experience that new parsnip recipe, it would be my preference to wait until the Friday after the second to last Thursday of November.

But, it could be this year that the holidaze winds might change. Basically, as I write this, laying in the supplies for the feast, I am on the horns of a dilemma. It has been suggested that I might actually enjoy some culinary experimentation; that perhaps I am becoming bored with yearly preparation of the same dishes and side dishes, that perhaps my family is becoming bored (how could that possibly be?!). It has been suggested that, were I to add a novel element, I could better showcase my flair. I must admit that these considerations present an intriguing challenge.

I think I have arrived at an accommodation that will allow me the ability to experiment and change while at the same time remaining essentially the same. A few weeks ago, the Board of Trustees at the Lakewood Public Library Foundation hosted a dinner at the house of Board President, Lynn Foran. One of the items that had been offered for auction at the Foundation’s Gala, “The First to See the Best”, had been a dinner party for eight that I had volunteered to prepare. I believe that the event was successful. Certainly the service provided by the Trustees was excellent and the diners were complimentary of the meal. In the course of developing that menu, I had worked on a recipe for a cream of pumpkin soup which I felt would be entirely fitting for a fall meal.

Now the thought occurs to me that my traditional Thanksgiving dinner never included soup. It would be possible to make the change by its addition without actually impacting the traditional meal itself. There won’t be a substitution. None of the traditional elements will be left out. But, my sense of tradition isn’t offended by adding a new element. And so, this year, the intention is to add to the feast, while it remains otherwise unchanged. Perhaps it will become a new tradition. But for now, I'll be sticking with the turnips, sage dressing, Mom's broccoli and corn casserole and relish tray. But, I might think about that parsnip recipe for Christmas.

Pumpkin Soup (Serves 8)

Note: This can be served in individual pumpkin shells. Simply cut off the top inch of 8 very small “sugar” or pie pumpkins, scoop out, rub with oil, and bake for 350° for an hour, then ladle the hot soup directly into these individual “bowls”.

2 small pie pumpkins

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1 tbsp olive oil

4 cups chicken stock

2 cups heavy cream

1 dried chipotle chili

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

1 tbsp fresh grated ginger

½ cup apple cider

½ tsp salt

1 generous pinch of curry powder

Clean pumpkins, bake shells 350° for an hour, or until tender. Scoop out pulp and save it for later. Sweat the onions in olive oil, until translucent. Add stock, pumpkin pulp, chipotle chili, cider, nutmeg, ginger, salt. Simmer until chili is very soft. Discard the chili. Run through food processor until very smooth. Return to pan, add cream, bring to simmer (do not boil) and add curry, salt and pepper to taste. Can be thinned with stock.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 3, Issue 24, Posted 1:29 PM, 11.20.2007