Privilege Blog

The Privilege Of A Gravy Boat, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:31am

Imagine our holidays from the perspective of someone who grew up elsewhere. Thanksgiving can be difficult to decode, much less make meaningful. So many dishes, so many tools, so many accoutrements. What is required? Must I cook it all myself?

I mean think about it. Potatoes; white, orange, purple? Greens; roasted with citrus, or in casserole? What about tiny green peas straight from a bag in your freezer? Desserts; pies, pies, pies. Oh wait, a cheesecake! Sauces, jellies, savory, sweet. Surely turkey will be safe. And then you’re sitting on your sofa as a commercial plays for Honey-Baked Hams and you throw your hands up in exasperation. Fully justified.

Foods and furnishings become talismans of belonging. It is full good fortune to be so embedded in a place and society that one can deepen or lighten the meaning of symbols at will. That’s a gravy boat, up top, as I’m guessing you knew. (Unless you recently arrived from a place where people eat with their hands, from plates made of banana leaves, a perfectly legitimate and sensible approach, in which case it might take a minute to figure out.)

When you have known about gravy boats since childhood, have maybe used them at more than one family table, you can move beyond decoding into creating personal history. I imagine a virtual paint knife. And of course sometimes we are layering over other cultures, those nigh-on destroyed. Privilege.

So my gravy boat (say it 10 times fast and it loses meaning, an interesting paradox) is Lenox. Acquired in 1986, a few days before Thanksgiving, it matches some china passed to me, probably a gift from my parent’s wedding, although no one seems to remember. One layer. For some reason I confessed to the woman at the pick-up counter, the morning I bought it, that I was newly, very newly pregnant with my first child. A Thanksgiving never passes that I don’t remember that day. Two layers. There are more.

No need to elaborate further on my particular history. I would rather that you now wander off into your own stories, either remembered or to come. But in your wanderings, perhaps consider the person walking an unfamiliar path. I trust you.

Have a wonderful weekend and a Happy Thanksgiving.

39 Responses

  1. I have two silver gravy boats, that were my grandmother’s. I’ve used them every Thanksgiving for so many years….they have a very fancy handle and spout, with a matching oval silver plate. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a porcelain gravy boat before.

    After my mother died 4 years ago, I stopped making Thanksgiving dinner, and we now all go out of town to a resort and celebrate there for 4 days.

    Wishing you and all your followers and lovely long weekend.

    1. @KSL, I love the idea of going to a wonderful resort for Thanksgiving! I am still making a traditional dinner for both of our mother (ages 96 and 93). I’ve done this for 40 years…

    2. I’d done 37 years of cooking for a week for Thanksgiving. I was so done, and so busy at Thanksgiving that I never got a real chance to enjoy my family. It’s been a real game changer. We’re all together for 4 days, and someone else does the cooking!

    3. @KSL, I love this as a Thanksgiving tradition. We’ve gone out to dinner several times for the holiday, for one reason or another, and it’s always been a relief from expectations that in those moments we were unable to meet. But to make it a tradition, in fact, next level;).

  2. Well I grew up elsewhere ! In many places but not where Thanksgiving is celebrated (don’t Canadians also have it but on a different day ?) Weirdly here in the UK the US Thanksgiving is increasingly celebrated . No one talks about what it celebrates or the controversies thereof . It is purely commercial and is probably related to Black Friday and the Internet . And the turkey industry has always tried to increase sales – some people eat turkey on Bank Holidays . For those who don’t know – Bank Holidays in the UK replace the religious festivals of other countries . Some are even claimed to be religious but the real reason is given away by the fact that they MUST happen on a Monday !

  3. My one regret is not getting two gravy boats instead of just one when I got my formal china. Why didn’t anyone warn me that you need one at each end of the table?! Well, I digress. I grew up in a family that had a Chinese flavored roast turkey and a corresponding Chinese flavored gravy (which looked just like traditional American gravy). It was served in a gravy bowl, as a gravy boat just wasn’t big enough for the quantity that our large family required. I am relinquishing the role of host for Thanksgiving and handing it over to my two daughters. Also, happy to hand over my gravy boats.

    1. @Jane, A two-gravy boat family is a big and festive family indeed:). I would love to hear what flavors you used in your Chinese-flavored turkey and gravy! Star anise? Soy? Ginger?

  4. On gravy boats: We received two antique silver gravy boats (minus plates, so I suppose they could be called sauce boats, except for the distinctive shape) as wedding presents back in 1965, the older of which I always use for Thanksgiving. This one (Dublin, 1810) has an elaborate monogram, sparking the gift-giver’s note, “The monogram may really be a single ‘H,’ but if you squint a bit, it does look just like “T C” [my husband’s initials]” – which certainly works for us!

    On menus: The NY Times had an interesting feature recently about a a Syrian refugee trying to figure out Thanksgiving dinner for her family – and I must say that her recipes and menu look much more interesting than mine! So I’m going to include one of her side dishes into my own groaning board. (Since the above-mentioned TC is from Massachusetts, there is no way we can do anything other than a full home-cooked turkey-and-all-the-trimmings spread, but I’ve been trying to add something new each time for the past few years, with some success.)

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Lisa, and to all your readers – and as you all sit to down to whatever celebrations you prefer this Thursday, please spare a thought for those native denizens of Massachusetts, who showed such kindness to strangers newly-arrived on their shore, seeking refuge in such a strange new land…

    1. We have incorporated that thought, and thanks into our Thanksgiving for many years….a holiday, that has very strange implications right now with our situation at the border….

    2. @Victoire, I try to walk that line, to give space to those who want and need and should be able to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving, but also allow our understanding of our national history to deepen and include the wrongs as well as the right. It’s hard, but necessary. I never find that telling people they don’t get to hold what they love because of others’ injuries is useful. That they need to be inclusive, yes. And I love the idea of a Dublin gravy boat. xox.

  5. My 1980s stoneware didn’t come with a gravy boat. In it’s efforts to be modern and multi-functional it had something that looks like an oversized cream pitcher for gravy.
    Gravy is not something that I have ever spent any time attempting to make. My MIL did quite a production of gravy, getting the right drippings, making up the flour mixture, getting is all smoothed out but for a few meaty lumps. I’m a bad girl who dumps the can I bought into the not gravy boat and puts it into the microwave.

    1. @RoseAG, I can see your stoneware pitcher so clearly! And my mom was a big gravy maker, and hers was delicious, so I’ve stuck with making it and buying stuffing and cranberry;).

  6. Hello Lisa, I loved having Thanksgiving at my house in Ohio. We always invited foreign graduate students to introduce them to the holiday. We had fun using all the good china and serving pieces–except gravy boats. No one in my family likes gravy, so that dish was omitted.

    I remember the little wax Thanksgiving candles that were somewhat the worse for wear, but we could never bear to get rid of them. Also the old cornucopia that we filled with whole nuts to crack after dinner. Everything full of family memories–perfect for Thanksgiving!
    p.s. I wish you and your family a very happy Holiday!

    1. @Parnassus, Thank you! Do you celebrate over there in Asia now? I imagine the graduate students were so happy to spend time in a family, as they were far from home. And the little candles…

  7. My cat Mieps recently climbed into the china hutch and smashed some lovely dessert bowls that I use for Thanksgiving.
    Nothing can be said, she is after all a cat! It’s interesting to me how objects take on meaning such as your gravy boat.
    Thank-you for trusting me and have a wonderful holiday.


  8. Thanksgiving is a strange day for me because, as you know, I have an Indigenous American dad and a Euro-American mixture mom. We celebrated with china and gravy boats (I have those now), but the older I got the less the holiday feels right to me. My ex was British, so there was that as well. My family celebrated a holiday that his family, all in England and Germany, did not celebrate. Years ago I decided to make the holiday a day of compassionate thanksgiving and connection for all people. Even if I am at a more traditional table, that is the way I honor the day. As a lapsed Catholic (and with Catholicism fraught for some Indigenous peoples), Christmas has altered in the same way for me. Increasingly, I align myself with the seasonal changes as my high holy day/holidays. So, I celebrate the equinoxes and the solstices, and I find comfort and pleasure in those days and their meanings, which connect me to all previous peoples who lived with the light and the dark and the seasons and the shifts. A wish for a wonderful weekend and holiday back to you. xo.

  9. I have two gravy boats–one a wedding gift from the parents of my best friend from high school. It’s an ornate silver plate bowl affixed to its very own saucer. It is ornate and quite lovely. The second gravy boat comes from my husband’s family and is sterling silver and quite graceful—even petite if that can describe a gravy boat.

    Come to think of it, I also have a china gravy boat—Wedgwood–part of a set of everyday dishes in the Edme pattern.

    The most sentimental one of these is the first one–the wedding gift from my girlfriend’s parents. My girlfriend died at age 51 of nonsmoker’s lung cancer. She was a neurologist and an activist for women and Asian Americans. I’ll think about her as we enjoy gravy on Thanksgiving Day.

  10. Quick addendum: I did try saying “gravy boat” ten times, and found myself murmuring “GRIH-buh-buh” by the end. I think will re-christen my own two as “my antique silver gribuhbuhs,” or even “gribbuhs,” and set aside any pretensions!

  11. Lisa, I have the same Lenox gravy boat as you! Happy Thanksgiving to you and to all your readers and commenters. You have such a delightful group of people who add their voices to your posts. I am grateful to be a part of the conversation.

    1. @Audrey, Gravy twins! And I am grateful to you have here, with the others, who I agree are completely and totally delightful like you:).

  12. Lovely, thoughful sentiment. I grew up with gravy boats. Somehow i never got one, back when I got married and set up house 36 years ago. We use a ceramic gravy pitcher..

  13. For many years we lived out west, far from family. Starting in college out there I collected friends also too far from family to go home for Thanksgiving, which made for the jolliest dinners. I made the turkey and gravy and most of the rest was potluck. “Bring a dish you always loved at thanksgiving.” I did a little directing but not much and sometimes we’d have 3 dishes of sweet potatoes. One or two times I did the whole menu but always reverted because the sense of participation and fun with the pot luck was better. Eventually we moved east and now have nice meals at relatives’ tables but I do miss collecting a whole group of people who couldn’t get home for the holiday. And some for whom it wasn’t familiar as you note.

    1. @Wendy, That sounds so lovely, even and/or especially the thought that sometimes you’d have three dishes of sweet potatoes. The serendipity and the laughter.

  14. The gravy boats (3) will make their appearance on Thanksgiving day. Each boat has a long history in my family. Mostly years of good memories sitting at the Thanksgiving table adorned with china, crystal and silver …. and the boats. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving to one and all.

  15. There was never a gravy boat on my family’s table, although my mother’s china service probably included one. I grew up believing–I’m not sure exactly why–that gravy was something only non-Jews ate, like pork chops. I did enjoy gravy as a sort of guilty pleasure when it was served in the school cafeteria, ladled over creamy mashed potatoes; or as part of a Swanson TV dinner (the ultimate goyish treat).

    I learned how to make turkey gravy (is there another kind?) only when I was in my 30s. I like it well enough, but it’s an awful lot of trouble, so I often “forget” to make it and never feel the lack.

    1. @Nancy, One of my brothers-in-laws is Jewish, I will ask him whether he felt the same way about gravy. I wonder what the derivation is. It is a fair amount of work, I don’t make stuffing or cranberry for the same reasons. It’s all about knowing our priorities;).

      We ate Swanson TV dinners when my mother and father went out. A whole other cultural artifact…

  16. Happy Thanksgiving dear Lisa!
    Your gravy boat is so beautiful,it has something of japanese esthetic and I love it. What a lovely memory connected with it
    As you may know,turkeys were one of the gifts from the New World to the Old one. Nevertheless,we have some sorts here we call authentic .We usually eat turkey for Christmas (with very thin pastries-pita bread like,but thiner-together with the gravy,called “mlinci”,among all the other side dishes).
    My gravy boats (I like the name!)are parts of my china,without any special story behind them

  17. I can still remember, “Love leads to Lenox.” :)

    My grandmother gave me a lot of her china before she died. I had stored it at my mom and dad’s house, but they were moving to Saudi Arabia, so when I returned from the Peace Corps, I put the boxes in my trunk and lugged that china from Minnesota to California to Washington DC to Austin as I searched for a job. It – was not the best use of space.

    I have since moved to Miami, Cedar Rapids, Memphis, and now Milwaukee. I don’t know where the china is.

    My husband and I had white dishes from Crate and Barrel.

    But last summer, he went on a road trip and thoroughly disrupted our lives when he called from the Fiesta outlet in West Virginia and we made the crazy midlife crisis decision to get ORANGE dishes.

    We will be eating steak and macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving and binge watching “Chernobyl.”

  18. Lisa,

    My dad used soy, star anise and dried citrus peel. There were also dried black mushrooms. Very delicious and I wish I were able to reproduce it. Alas, he never wrote his recipe down.

  19. My non-gravy boat story:
    One year my mother didn’t have room in frig for the turkey so she put it outside on a high table. It was very cold.
    But the racoons got it!
    So we went out to ear.

    Funny to think back on that…

Comments are closed.