Time to gobble up the real turkeys

Over the years I have shamelessly filled this space the Sunday before Thanksgiving with tales of my mother’s inadvertent culinary sadism. The worst offense was her broccoli mold, a Thanksgiving tradition on our family’s holiday tables that bore an uncanny resemblance to — and here I am being kind — dog vomit.

Recently readers around the country have tried to reassure me that my mother’s annual kitchen cataclysm was actually very common. Sure, her broccoli mold was unique. But there are souls out there who have endured far worse on Thanksgiving than green slime with chunks in a Bundt pan. Here is a small fraction of the gastronomic nightmares that they shared with me:

• Joanne Mahannah: “My husband had an ‘old maid’ aunt who was one of a kind. One Thanksgiving, I was seated next to her and she passed this dish, telling me to try it. I thought it was cranberry sauce but it was actually tomato aspic. The recipe is tomato soup, gelatin and God knows what else. How do you get rid of this stuff once it’s in your mouth without offending someone?”

• Libby Oppenheimer Johnson: “Limburger and blue cheese soup. My mother claims she found the recipe in ‘Bon Appetit,’ but I have my doubts.”

• Marjorie Light: “Once we had Thanksgiving with a neighbor who was a notoriously bad cook. She opened one can of peas, dumped those little onions in with it, and threw some French’s dried onions on top of that.”

• Barbara Tkach Morris: “Back in his college days, one Thanksgiving my husband, J, opened a can of Franco American spaghetti, cooked it in a popcorn popper, and served it with a Coors beer.”

• Diane Guertin: “My ex-sister-in-law offered Zarex-sauteed bananas, no doubt hastening her status as ‘ex.’ I believe this recipe started life as an honorable banana flambe and later fell into disrepute with the substitution of Zarex syrup for good brandy and a flame. The bananas were served right there between the mashed potatoes and the peas which seemed ill-timed and was disquieting to all traditionalists at the table.” (Zarex is reminiscent of Kool-Aid, except syrupy — and even sweeter.)

• Wendy Rifkind: “A lime Jell-O mold, with avocado slices and grapefruit squares floating in it.”

• Kate Ahearn: “Curried sweet potatoes. Truly awful.” (It is worth noting that Kate sent me a photo with the caption, “Sadly, they didn’t taste better than they looked.”)

• Margaret Reardon: “This happened to a friend. The turkey was just sitting there, and her new kitten, seeking warmth and comfort, crawled inside and settled down. She served it anyway (once the kitten relocated, of course).”

• Liz Grimes: “We were all sitting around the dining room table in anticipation, bowls of melted butter close at hand, when my father proudly carried a gigantic lobster out of the kitchen. It was literally falling off a full-size turkey platter and weighed 10-plus pounds. Impressive to say the least. After all the messy work of cracking the claws and tail and digging out the meat, it turned out to be rubbery, tough, and quite the disappointment. Due to its extreme size and age, Dad had overcooked it. There was no such thing as a giant lobster hotline to call for help in these situations.”

• Wendy Burd-Kinsey: “Stuffing, creamed corn, stewed tomatoes, and creamed cabbage. It’s a 20-year tradition of my in-laws. Some of the dinner guests would mix them together.”

Finally, I offer this. View it as therapy for Dana:

• Dana Lorway: “A barbecue sauce that my dad made from scratch and put anchovies in it. He said he wanted to give it body. I do not think that was a Thanksgiving treat, however; but I have to share it because eating it was so traumatic, I have to deal with it by talking about it.”

I thank you all. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Be grateful you have steered clear of the broccoli mold.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on November 22, 2010.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.