It’s Thanksgiving time again. I’m always surprised when this holiday appears – as if it came out of nowhere. Summer slowly ends, the school year begins with all of its shiny newness… and just when you hit your stride in a daily routine, Thanksgiving appears and slows you down. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the food. I’ll say it – I’m not shy. It’s a big hunk of my attraction to the day.
Last night I made Grandma’s cranberries. My Grandma passed away in 2011, at the age of 103. She was a bright woman who remained witty, conversational, and PRESENT until the day she died. I have many great stories about Grandma, and maybe I’ll pull some of them out for you over time, but for now, I’ll get back to her cranberries. Every year, she would bring two or three glass custard cups filled with this delicious jelly-like sweetness, and every year it would evaporate from the table in a disproportionate manner to the endless amounts of turkey. Compliments aplenty, she would smile, say thank you, and then add some sort of statement about how they didn’t turn out how she had hoped they would. We’d look at her in amazement, because they always tasted as we expected.
Several years ago Grandma invited me over to learn how to make the famed cranberries. She had a written recipe, but never used it. It was something she just made, and if I wanted to make them someday, I had to watch her.
The recipe was simple: a bag of cranberries, some water, a cup or two of sugar (it depends), some raspberry jelly (seedless), and the squisher (a large food mill sort of contraption).
First you put the cranberries in a pot and add just enough water to cover them. Bring the pot to a boil, and cook until all the cranberries have “popped”. Set up the squisher in the sink over a bowl, and pour in the hot cranberry mush. Grind the cranberries until only the skins remain, collecting the liquid in the bowl below. Put the bowl’s contents back into the pot, add sugar and jelly and boil for a while until it thickens. Once it does, pour the liquid into cups and refrigerate.
At the end of the teaching lesson, Grandma gave me the squisher. She told me that she would be happy to make cranberries with me in the future, but that they were now my job.
Last night, after all the boiling and squishing and stirring, I realized that 90 minutes had passed, and I was still waiting for the concoction to thicken on the stove. I wondered, how much longer do I have to cook this stuff? I don’t remember it taking this long before? Would it taste burnt if I kept going?
Standing there, I finally understood why Grandma was always uncertain about her cranberries. Her recipe, while simple, contained a fair amount of uncertainty. How much water? How much sugar and jelly? How long do you wait before it’s thick enough to pour into cups? The recipe only makes a small amount of cranberry jelly, so you can’t really taste the result before the big meal. She never knew how it turned out until the big reveal, and I never know, either. It’s a leap of faith. The cranberries will be whatever they will be. Hopefully they will turn out as I expect them to. And, if they don’t? Eh. There’s always next year.
Message of the day: Uncertainty is a constant. You can’t eliminate it completely, so don’t try. You can choose to follow a recipe, or make a list of everything you need to succeed, but remember that sometimes you won’t know how things will turn out until the process is complete.