This post is a bit of a cheat. I wrote it some time ago for a different project but, as we head into our Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, it feels right.
I wrote this not long after Mom started receiving more daily care as her dementia started taking a firmer grasp on her memories. I loved getting a smile or laugh from her when I reminded her of all the fun we had at family gatherings. So many of the recipes I’m rediscovering now and sharing in this blog, were the stars of those gatherings.
Even though this year’s Thanksgiving celebration is the first without Mom and Dad, I’m thankful for my partner, our family and friends, near and far, and for the bounty of memories that remain.
I hope you enjoy this re-post and Happy Thanksgiving!
Apparently, English and Scottish surnames were often derived from the person’s occupation. Cook, then, is a terrifically apt name for our family and perhaps why many of the conversations I have with Mom end up about food or eating.
Learning the importance of gathering for food at an early age!
I don’t think Mom ever really loved to cook, but she always had hearty meals on the table for us every day. She stuck to the tried and true favourites most days, but based on the number of cookbooks and recipe files she collected I think she enjoyed the challenge of finding new things for her family to eat. I’m pretty sure my love of cooking was borne out of watching her in the kitchen. And even though Mom no longer prepares food for herself, the routine of meal time is a key social component of her day. Three times a day Mom joins her regular table mates for really well prepared food and camaraderie. On her bad days she is often heard complaining that “they only serve fish!” but the variety of food choices is quite spectacular. I know she finds comfort in joining others at meal time, just as our family of four did as regularly as we could. And our extended family has some rich traditions when it comes to family meals.
Grannie Cook (centre) family meal
Christmas at our house in the 1960s
Family gathering with the Drakes in the 1970s. The unruly one on the right is me.
Family meals continue with new generations
For as long as I can remember, the Cook/Ewart/Drake families have come together at times of celebration for some pretty fantastic meals. For a long time Mom hung on to the memory of she and Dad hosting Christmas dinner for the entire clan while she was quite pregnant with me. While I wasn’t there “in entirety” for that dinner, I can guarantee from the countless family dinners I attended afterwards, that it would have been a true collaborative effort. The hosts prepared the main part of the meal and other family members contributed vegetables, salads or desserts. The hosting family would shift with each occasion and over the years the number of people in attendance just grew and grew. It wasn’t uncommon for tables to spread throughout the dining and living rooms and sometimes the kitchen (a likely location for the “kid’s table”). On at least one occasion we used the basement of the church to accommodate everyone. There was always lots of laughter and many, many stories shared. In fact, so many of the dishes served became family classics, that a cookbook was prepared to commemorate a reunion in the 1990s. It’s still a go-to recipe file for me today.
I appreciate now more than ever how those meals provided nourishment for mind, body and spirit. It was a great time to see cousins, and other distant family members and we always looked forward after dinner to a series of “Cook family games” that brought out some surprising competitiveness. One particular game was kind of like musical chairs, only substitute crazy hats for chairs. Said hats then needed to be plucked off your neighbour’s head and placed onto yours before the music stopped. My Grannie and great aunt were ferocious and I think were responsible for some of my early hair loss!
The infamous hat game – Grannie Cook (right) teaching me bad habits.
Marshmallow on a string – Mom (left) seems to be beating my Aunt Liz!
The families may have all grown too large and too far flung for those dinners to happen easily now, but the traditions have been successfully passed through the generations. I enjoy sharing those memories with Mom and I think she enjoys reliving them. Happy times and meals shared with family and friends – a true testament to the traditions of our parents and theirs.