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Goodbye Tomatoes, Hello Cranberries, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:42am

It’s turned a little chilly here, and we’ve even had some rain. Early for Northern California, rain in October. Overnight I’ve lost my fondness for tomatoes. I feel like, “Well, now that’s done. Time for the holidays.” Not that summer is a chore, but when it’s gone it’s gone.

This year everyone comes to me for Thanksgiving. 16 including kids. Erk. I’m thrilled to pieces, if also a little nervous. I love to cram everyone into my small house, muster up extra tables, pull together a hodgepodge of tablecloths, china, glasses, silverware. Buy Brazil nuts, once a year.

But I did use to be a better cook than I am now. My short term memory stumbles. It’s harder to look through a recipe and remember it exactly, so I now have a Lucite cookbook stander-upper which allows me to read, do 3 cooking steps, read again, do 3 more.

I’m pretty sure it will be fine in the end. My daughter will be here. My sisters will rally round. My son and his uncle will bake pumpkin pie. My mother will put together her exceptional gravy.

I found myself wondering this morning, as I watched one blue jay peck away at the last green tomatoes, and another perch at the top of my garden stakes, are family holidays held in winter all over the world? And if so, why?

Asia has the Lunar New Year around February, the Autumn Festival in, well, Autumn. I don’t know the Muslim and Hindu holiday dates, nor any from Africa.

But here in the US, and in the Northern European countries from which the founders first came, families gather when the weather gets cold. There are practical reasons for this, needless to say. If we all still lived together in an agricultural community, we’d want to get the harvest in, preserve produce, prepare for winter. We’d also get pretty sick of each other, during the months of short days, so a festivity or two is always warranted. I know why the Swedes have Santa Lucia, when the littlest girl wears a candle wreath on her head. Any excuse for light is welcome.

There’s another consequence, unintended I suppose, the simple result of being creatures who live and die. We transfer knowledge and traditions at family gatherings. Winter in the background. We notice our offspring, the children of our sisters, our parents, thinking, “Well, look at this.” If we can’t stir gravy and mash garlic potatoes at the same time, we get a kid to take on tasks. And, should we start to feel too sentimental, too aware of passing seasons, someone will break a fluted pie pan, show up annoyingly late, or pester their parents for yet another helping of ice cream, anchoring us firmly in the day.

32 Responses

  1. I just love the changing of the seasons and we too at our house have been told by all the kids and spouses that everyone is coming home this year for Thanksgiving. Like you, while I am thrilled to have them here and love to cook and set a festive table, am a little fearful…just that all the personalitites mesh and everyone is happy!
    Sometimes it seems that there is so much work involved and then it is over so quickly….and then all that stays is a huge mess!! Is it worth it….YES!!

  2. It's so strange, after months of tomatomania I woke up one morning wanting apples, another wanting to mainline pumpkin, and now I want cranberries. The togetherness I can do without, but the food. Oh dear, the food.

  3. I know exactly what you mean Lisa…now I am thiking of squash, sweet potatoes, apple crumble, mmmm The family get togethers are wonderful, so many generations for us!

    Art by Karena

  4. I am cooking for 16 also this Thanksgiving, if you count my one year old grandson! I have no idea where I'm going to seat everyone, since my table only accommodates six at the time. But, perversely, I am looking forward to it. I adore the holidays, and I love having all the family together. I will miss the ones who cannot be with us, like my grandmother who passed away two years ago. I guess I am carrying on in her shoes, but I don't feel capable.

  5. Good luck with your cooking!! No one celebrates Thanksgiving in Australian (well maybe some expats do) but I usually celebrate a Faux Thanksgiving with my friends because we like an excuse to eat turkey and sweet potato with marshmallow!!

    In Australia none of the holidays are in winter- Christmas in summer is celebrated in 35 degree heat!!! With the oven cranked up it gets BOILING hot. This is why lots of people cecbrate "Christmas in July" here- to get a taste of cooking wintery food in a cooler environment akin to a Northern Hemisphere Christmas.

  6. I love to make Thanksgiving dinner- I'm already planning the menu and making shopping lists. I think there are celebrations and family gatherings year round. It is just that the fall/winter ones tend to be inside and more formal. I believe Ramadan is on a lunar cycle and changes season over the years.

  7. It sounds like you are going to have a lovely holiday with your family.
    This year the family is delegating Thanksgiving dinner to my son and his girlfriend. It will be their first time to host a major family dinner. We will all bring food and wine to help them out.
    God it feels good to pass these family traditions down to the next generation.

  8. For one reason or another, I have hosted a large number of large family gatherings. Generally, I love it. One trick I learned to implement years ago is to invite at least one and as many as five or six people who haven't any other invitations, usually because they don't have any family nearby. My original motives were completely altruistic, but I quickly learned that having at least one or two "outsiders" made all the "insiders" behave much better. For starters, our conversation did not veer into the dangerous (for our families, at least) topic of politics!

  9. I like that everyone participates and contributes to your Thanksgiving Feast…makes it seem a more collaborative family event.

    If 16 came for dinner here in our tiny bungalow we would need to serve it buffet style or have several tables in different rooms!

  10. Nothing more special than a family celebration! Regardless to the season, regardless to what the official holiday represents or the religious calendar dictates…, when several members of a family get together, I believe is THE greatest reminder of what life is all about!
    All of my adult life I've lived in a different continent from my family, and for years the equivalent to "Thanksgiving" celebration/get together happened whenever I visited my homeland. As long as mama lived, from the moment of my arrival we would gather and hug, and talk, and eat, and hug, talk, eat again and again all together until the moment I would depart; and so my sisters, brothers in law, children, grandchildren, (mama's great grandchildren) gathered all together for those precious times of family reunion and celebration: the greatest times of my life!
    I just realized that what I just wrote has very little in common with cranberries, but oh! your posting brought a very emotional trip down memory lane and as always what you wrote here touched a very special cord in me.
    Thank you Lisa, and Happy cranberries' season!!!

  11. At the farmer's mkt today I bought winesap, granny smith and red delicious apples, yams & sweet potatoes, the last of the sweet white corn and(a big box of tomatoes for $5! Guess I will make tomato sauce tomorrow then I'm ready for pumpkins and cranberries!
    i made an awesome apple bread w cinnamon topping…mmmmm! Happy Fall!

  12. Sorry to learn of your memory loss. I can relate- especially when I'm in the kitchen. During holiday seasons in the past I have prepared many lovely dinners, feeding over 100 between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, my ability to function at that pace with any success is fading much like those last tomatoes.

  13. For me, the real sense of seasonal change comes with the switch away from Daylight Savings, so that the dark arrives before 5. But while it's still light, well, dusk-ish, right now at 6:10, the rain and wind make squash and rich sauces and baked fruit desserts ever so appealing.
    Your Thanksgiving dinner sounds wonderful — no wonder you're looking forward to it, if with a wee bit of anxiety — and you know it will all come together scrumptiously.

  14. Donna – I agree it's worth it. Good luck with personalities. Goodness knows we have had our spats over the years.

    Charlotte – Oh dear, the food. And pecan pie.

    Karena – How wonderful to have many generations.

    Ginger – I am sure your Thanksgiving will be beautiful. And what do you want to bet that your grandmother didn't use to feel capable either. Wait. You almost had a great-great-grandmother family? Wow!

    FF – I love the idea of Faux Thanksgiving.

  15. DocP – Good point as to Ramadan. I suppose the indoor festivities focus on cooking, so we're in close quarters, and then that just coincides with the winter season's passing cues.

    Madeline – Thank you so much.

    Belle – Your son and his girlfriend? Wow. That is amazing. I bet it feels good.

    T&C – Probably you've hosted so many because you're good at it. And I love the idea of the neutral outsider:).

    hostess – I will set up card tables next to my actual table, and they will run into the living room area. Furniture WILL be moved:).

  16. Anna – Metaphorical cranberries then:). Thank you for such a lovely heartfelt comment.

    Jennifer – Wow. Can I come visit?

    Elizabeth – You're right. It's the pace that gets tough. And I cannot IMAGINE feeding over 100 people between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Mater – I am going to plan scrupulously, ask for help, and avoid all alcohol until I sit down to eat:).

  17. You are celebrating in something as old as civilization itself. Harvest Festival, Thanksgiving, call it what you like, it is then that families can share and celebrate the bounty that this world provides. I've just de-stemmed 4 tons of grapes for our 2010 harvest and the fermentation is under way. Our family and friends are here sampling some of the previous year's efforts, so we'll raise a glass to you and yours and wish you a happy and successful thanksgiving

  18. Maybe I am writing only about traditions I know, but family gatherings over here happen only when there is a wedding, someone turns 50, or more ( round numbers ) or a funeral. Christmas has also turned to a small party, just between the very near family members. There might be families, who gather together more, but the trend is vanishing. This is a bit sad, but also a relief. I certainly could not cook for so many people. I admire those who can : ) !

  19. Yes, as F Fuchsia says, holidays and family get togethers here in Australia are all in the hottest part of the year. Hope that your Thanksgiving plans are coming together well. I love gathering lots of people together in small places and getting together a mixture of tables, china etc. – seems more of a celebration and cosy too! x

  20. For the past 20 Thanksgivings I have spent my time in the kitchen revering my Mom and Grandmother and doing my best to re-create their cooking. In England, I invited friends to join me, as I had no family and learned to cook for 20 to 43 people (the secret is to start a week or so ahead with a list of what to cook in what order). I agree that holidays are best with family – enjoy them all while you have them!

  21. My family is not local, so Thanksgiving is the only time we get together. My only sibling will be re-locating halfway around the world next year – I don't know if they will be able to come home for Thanksgiving or not.

    I have a group of friends that I host for Sunday dinner about every six weeks. Last time, it was a tomato, corn and zucchini pasta. Today it will be soups, salad and apple crisp. I thought of this post as I was peeling apples last night.

  22. We celebrate earlier in Canada, the second Monday in Oct. It's a more accurate harvest time here, and gives a pause before the Christmas holidays, for those who observe them. These big gatherings though work, are gifts of love.

  23. How wonderful that they are all coming to your house and having those that will help with their specialties. I love family gatherings…love working in the kitchen with loved ones…love the smells of the food mixed in with the chatter and laughter. And then it seems that the eating time passes so quickly and then it's time to clean up all the mess…but that can even be fun when you have helpers. :)

    Happy Sunday! XX

  24. I once wrote that "It's no accident that so many of us are preparing for festivals and holidays relating to various notions of finding light, literally and metaphorically." Humans are united in their search for illumination. That Diwale, Hanukkah, Loi Krathong, Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, Imbolc, Candlemas, and no doubt more of which I am unaware all call for some type of candles or festive lighting surely is not one of the accidents of history.

  25. Reggie knows exactly what you mean when you write that you've lost your taste for tomatoes. He, too, is longing for root vegetables and other autumnal harvest offerings, such as squash and brussel sprouts. Also lusty, hearty stews. And yes, many of us of European ancestry gather to celebrate when the days have gone shorter. Our forebears met then because it would have been impractical for many of them during the warmer and busier months. And it is no surprise that so many of our most important gatherings occur around the equinoxes and the solstices. In all cultures. Nice post, m'dear. Reggie

  26. I can't wait for Thanksgiving! Our house is warm, full of family and it smells fantastic.

    You are all invited :-)

  27. I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner for up to 20 people every year for the last 12 or so….last year and this year…we opted for Thanksgiving dinner at the Club….easier, excellent food and more time to focus on enjoying the family instead of cooking and cleaning up.

  28. This post is *perfect* for the day, sunshiny and warm, a remnant of summer we are unlikely to see again until next spring. But we'll take it.

    We made the first batch of homemade applesauce this weekend, and put some cranberries in for color, and because "it's just time." And this comes from one who detests midwest winters!

    This one is spot on Miss LPC,

  29. Legend – Did you say FOUR TONS? Oh my gosh. Happy Harvest Festival to you too.

    metscan – What about Midsummers?

    Semi – I love the way Australians are adapting the Anglican traditions to Oceania.

    Shelley – I would love a little reverence:). And yes! I've already started my plan backwards from serve time…

    DocP – I would miss my siblings terribly, all 3 of them, if they were far away.

    Duchesse – I know, I have heard people talk about America's month long winter bacchanalia:).

    Lori – I make sure not to be on tap for cleanup:).

  30. I generally have the great fortune, of celebrating American Thanksgiving, the great fortune being, I don't have to cook!

    I'm happy our Canadian Thanksgiving is in October. It gives me enough time to get myself together to prepare for another huge turkey dinner!

    I never lose my taste for tomatoes, I buy them year long, and I never put them in the refrigerator. I love their perfect orange/red colour. Happiness in a bowl.

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