It’s that time of year where many folks are cooking elaborate and/or not-so-elaborate seasonal meals. First is Canadian Thanksgiving in October – the United States celebrates Thanksgiving in November – and the colder weather all around is perfect for cooking traditional turkey dinners. It’s during this time when Christmas baking plans starts to swirl around many culinary minds. I used to bake a lot, and I used to be more adventurous in my cooking, but lack of time and energy has me slowing down. Whether cooking a hopefully-edible entree or baking a sugary treat, my time restraints have me looking to cut a few corners here and there, all while trying to stay ‘traditional.’ My men of three don’t seem to mind what I do or don’t do – they are truly grateful and thankful for whatever food I have in the house.
One thing I DO try to always do at this time of year is make cranberry jelly, preserved and sealed in a canning jar. I love doing it and have done so for years, and the one year I couldn’t make it I felt as though I had truly dropped the ball in my domesticity. Things just didn’t feel quite the same without it, as though I was ‘missing something.’
‘Company’s Coming’ line of cookbooks. The little cookbooks are my go-to for simple, corner-cutting, down-home easy cooking. This simple jelly recipe has no added pectin and I’ve never had it fail – knock on wood. I have made it so many times I have the process down pat; even in my time-limited life I can manage to get a batch done. But to be honest – and many would scowl at me as if having bitten down on a tart cranberry – I can’t taste the difference between mine and canned. Okay, MAYBE mine tastes a tiny bit better and is better for you (no added preservatives, etc). Canning aficionados will likely send me hate mail now.
But time restrictions aside I go through the ‘work’ of making it because I love doing it - so for me it’s not ‘work.’ The simmering of the fruit, the separating of the juice from the pulp through a sieve, the re-boiling of the juice with sugar, and then the sealing/processing - I love doing it all. Even waiting for each lid to ‘pop’ signalling each jars’ airtight seal gives me a kick.
Many would say ‘Gosh, Lisa – here you are complaining about lack of time, but you STILL go to all that effort and work (and don’t forget sweat) of doing all THAT? Why not just go buy a can of it and be done with it all?’
Yes, it’s all so very contradictory of me, but there you have it – I’m a major contradiction, and I know it. But there’s something so down-to-earth about the whole process - so back-to-basics, so down-home, so…old fashioned – that it makes me love doing it all the more. It’s as if I have a deep-seated need to retain some sense of tried-and-true from-scratch cooking. I make enough jars for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinner, as well as a few to give as gifts.
And every year at this time when I say I’m making turkey dinner, their first question is always, ‘With your cranberry jelly?’
And before I can answer, ‘Yes’, their second question is, ‘…and with lots of Stove Top© Stuffing?’
And when I answer yes, they dreamily sigh in relief and gratitude and ask, ‘When’s dinner?’
Yes, you read that right. The not-made-from-scratch stuffing that everyone knows by its’ brand name – of which I so readily promote as I love it, too – is what they want. They politely ‘like’ my homemade stuffing – Grandma’s is better, of course – but what they really, really want is Stove Top Stuffing, right out of the box.
So I get 6 boxes, enough for leftovers and then some. If I run out of their favourite I might have a mutiny on my hands and after cooking all the other fixings all I want is peace.
I know it’s all very contrary. Why have a whole turkey dinner complete with mashed potatoes and vegetables – all lovingly peeled, diced, boiled and so on – as well as the homemade-from-scratch cranberry jelly, only to (seemingly) ruin it all with instant stuffing from a box?
Because it’s what they truly want. It makes them happy, and if it makes them happy, it makes me happy - plus making the stuffing-from-a-box save me a whole bunch of time. And it’s just us for dinner – we don’t invite the Queen – so who cares? Who cares if our dinner plates look like one big contradiction? And who says you even HAVE to have ‘certain’ things at certain seasonal meals.
But the 6 boxes waiting on the counter the day of the big dinner makes me giggle at the opposite-ness of it all – at the contradiction of having stuffing from a box alongside home-made canned cranberry jelly.
Life is full of contradictions. Yes, some corny clichés can make my pumpkin pie curdle, but sometimes cliché’s are there for a reason – and many are true. But at least I am fortunate and lucky to live a place where I CAN have contradictions – that it’s okay to have them. And where I’m thankful for the freedom to have these contradictions, I’m also thankful for the means to have so many choices in what I get to cook. Homemade stuffing or boxed? Store bought jelly or homemade? Pumpkin pie or cheesecake? Although we might not have the means to have as fancy as a meal as others, there is nothing wrong with what we DO have – and many don’t have any at all.
Most folks might gag at not only having boxed stuffing but also at the sheer ‘un-proper-ness’ of it all. Who cares? Even if we had spaghetti on Thanksgiving, at least my family was having a meal together, never mind a meal at all.
So bring on the contradictions, I say, and be thankful we can even have them in the first place.
Oh – and just to add to it all: I keep a can of store-bought jelly in the back of my cupboard, just in case. You always gotta have a back-up.