A Tale of Two Kitchens: How a Nonpartisan Holiday Became Sacred
We have different levels of observance, but my family comes together for one holy day: Thanksgiving
A turkey was essential, of course. For years we prepared those awful swollen Rubashkin’s birds, until the Agriprocessors scandal of 2008 shut down the now-bankrupt slaughterhouse. We moved on to Empire, and eventually to free-roaming, organic Wise Poultry. Cream-filled mashed potatoes, pork-sausage stuffing, and buttery pie crusts were out, naturally. (I mourn the loss of dairy a bit.) Instead we had all manner of olive-oil-roasted squash, great platters of softened apples shingled with glazed sweet potatoes, tangy cranberry chutneys, and big verdant salads.
Wine was a problem though—I found the boiled mevushal stuff not fit to thin out a vinaigrette. But I was delighted to learn that most spirits are considered kosher, a discovery that inaugurated my own tradition of bringing bottles of rich whiskey, single village mescals, and herbaceous tequilas home for the holiday. We get good and tight to fuel the long night of postprandial chatter, rehashing of wild stories past, heated Scrabble matches, and the occasional table-pounding niggun.
To furnish this feast, we learned to kasher parts of our much-larger secular kitchen. The self-cleaning option took care of the oven. My mother bought separate grates for the stovetop, the kosher ones marked with a swipe of red nail polish. She found inserts for the sink and cloth coverings for the counter tops. She built up a storehouse of fleishig-friendly recipes. She’d never kept a kosher kitchen as a young woman. Now she’d mastered two.
Word of our kosher Thanksgiving got out. The local Chabad shliach, his cheery wife, and their ever-growing brood caught wind and soon became annual guests. Friends content to forgo the classic holiday staples have joined us, too. To accommodate this new influx of merry makers—and not to be outdone by the traditional two night festivities surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Passover—we eventually added a second day to our Thanksgiving celebration. A whole new crowd of aunts, uncles, and cousins comes on Friday for bagels and leftovers, as codified a custom as the Thursday meal.
The whole thing is a triumph of adaptability, a big, belt-loosening testament to one family’s commitment to each other. For awhile my brother’s religious rerouting seemed like it might threaten our delicate peace—a second-act twist too inscrutable for our parents to swallow. We could have splintered, washed our hands of each other, conceded to tense and fragmented family gatherings (or worse, none at all).
Instead we met somewhere in the middle. The kitchen was a kind of armistice, a blue-and-white tiled war room where we reconciled our two very different relationships to the same faith. In that kitchen, pilgrims of a kind, we made it all work.
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If you’re buying a kosher turkey, here are a few essential tips for making a perfect Thanksgiving dinner