Over the years, I have never been shy in this space when it comes to maligning my late mother’s contribution to the family Thanksgiving: a broccoli mold. Imagine a Bundt cake that looked and smelled like dog vomit. It was inedible, and yet many of us ate it because we loved my mother. (Apparently, not all broccoli molds reek like malfunctioning septic tanks. Reader Claudia Wolvington tells me that her Sienese husband, Lorenzo, makes one that is quite tasty.)
This year I asked readers to share their family’s version of the broccoli mold: the worst culinary moments they can recall from Thanksgivings past. Here are some of their memories.
• Rebecca Newman: My southern grandmother thought she was Julia Child and would make tomato aspic with olives and celery in it. My brother and I would spit it out in her beautiful Irish linen napkins. One Thanksgiving, one of my grandpa’s bird dogs took my napkin with the aspic and destroyed it.
• Sheila Harrington Susen: I grew up on a farm where we raised turkeys and always had a 25-pound bird (or larger), which my mom roasted overnight in a low degree oven. Fast forward: I was a young, engaged woman living in my own apartment and had invited my fiance and his parents for Thanksgiving. I followed my mother’s way of doing things. The problem was that my turkey only weighed about eight pounds. I awoke to a burnt mess in my oven.
• Jayne Cawthern: One Thanksgiving my cat dragged pieces of the turkey onto the floor before dinner. I am ashamed to admit that I put them back on the platter and served the meal as though nothing had happened.
• Juliet Smith: For dessert, my in-laws’ family used to serve us all prune whip.
• Kimberly Falgoust: My first thanksgiving with my ex-husband’s family, they served some kind of seafood stuffing. I don’t like stuffing, but took a helping. It was horrible! I was too young and polite to do anything except finish my portion. I was the only one besides my ex-husband’s uncle to eat it, and he had prepared it. He was so excited that I ‘liked’ it that I ended up having to eat it for the next 14 years — until I got divorced.
• Betsey Whitmore Brannen: A few years ago, my husband was deployed to Iraq, and we had a hodge-podge Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s home. I was depressed. This was our second deployment and I had zero desire to celebrate. To cheer me up, my mother-in-law purchased a rather expensive cheesecake for dessert. All I wanted was that cheesecake. I waited for it, I salivated over it. As we took off the lid, my brother-in-law flicked on the overhead light and the light bulb exploded — showering glass shards all over the chocolatey cheesecake goodness. Yeah, I still ate it.
• Suzanne Hodgman Hodsden: Once I was served sweetbread gravy. I’ve been a vegetarian for 37 years now.
Finally, I have to share a story from Rose Mary Muench, my much beloved aunt and a second mother to me. Bear in my mind that my aunt is talking about her mother, my wonderful grandmother — and an Armenian immigrant who had not grown up in a culture that made a whole lot of turkey gravy.
• Rose Mary Muench: Did I ever tell you the story about Grandma making gravy for the first time? She was practicing for Thanksgiving dinner the following week. All three siblings wanted turkey with gravy. We never had gravy. So we had roast leg of lamb with gravy, and we were so excited! We started to eat and having tasted gravy at our friends’ homes, we knew something was amiss. Everything seemed to be right except for the taste. My mom went down to the basement where behind lovely curtains were flour, barley, legumes, etc., in very big containers. Next to the flour, my dad had put wallpaper paste, which he was using for the entryway and halls. She came back upstairs and took everyone’s plates and scraped off the lamb and gravy. Yup! Gravy made with wallpaper paste! She never made gravy again. Turkey with natural juices would be fine. And so it was!
And to everyone who sent me their stories of Jello molds, vegetable aspics, cold noodles, and blond (and scorched) turkeys, I thank you. If only I had more room …. and a stronger stomach.
AN UPDATE: Last week I had the privilege of writing about the remarkable work that Dr. Peggy Larson has done at her Cat Spay & Neuter Clinic over the years, and how she is retiring at the end of this year. Although the veterinarian is still retiring and her clinic is going to close its doors in Colchester, there may still be a Cat Spay and Neuter Clinic in northern Vermont. “We are still working on continuing the service,” she wrote me in an email. “What is not known at this time is when and where and with whom.”
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on November 23. Chris’s most recent novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year in 2014.)