Family heirlooms carry on Thanksgiving traditions
Many people adamantly resist any attempts to change a thing about their traditional Thanksgiving feast, from the dishes carefully made from dog-eared recipe cards to the fine china that comes out only once or twice a year.
Every family has something that has been passed down from an elder that comes out on this uniquely American family day of feasting - anything from candlesticks and plates to goblets and pans. However worn, they are our treasures, the totems of our tribe that have been entrusted to us and that connect us over the generations.
At a time of mix-and-match culture and forgotten traditions, Thanksgiving remains the one day when we can pull out our heirlooms and remember our ancestors.
“It’s really about love. It’s about how those things trigger wonderful memories,” said Carole Murko, who founded the website “Heirloom Meals” dedicated to celebrating and preserving old family recipes and mealtime traditions. “They’re a tangible connection to a legacy, to something we crave - to know we belong to something bigger than us.”
Murko, who lives in Stockbridge, Ma., produces two shows - Heirloom Meals Thanksgiving and Heirloom Meals Christmas - in which people from all over the country share their traditions and stories. The programs air on public television stations across the U.S.
People take great comfort in their heirlooms and their rituals.
“I have found in talking to people, even my own family, that if you want to change anything about it, by adding something or taking something away, it’s a crisis,” she said.
These precious things serve as a “warm blanket,” she added. “Even if it’s fleeting, they pull you back to who you are and the memories that surround them.”
We asked readers to share their priceless tabletop heirlooms, the items that have an honored place at their Thanksgiving feast.
Depression Glass Basket
Bob Canning’s first memories of a certain pink bowl go back to early childhood. Blown to look like a delicate-handled Easter basket, the classic pink Depression glass sat unused in his grandmother’s china cabinet in Jersey City, N.J., in the 1950s. When his grandma died, his mother inherited the glass basket and put it to use.
“My mother was a great cook and she always had the bowl on the table,” said Canning, a retired advertising and trade copywriter for Disney who now lives in Petaluma.
His mother used it to store the packets of Sweet ‘N Low that she and her friends would tuck into their purses whenever they went out to eat.
Now Canning is the keeper of the bowl. And just like his mother, who died in 1992, he brings it out for special meals. Like Thanksgiving. Like his mother, he uses it for sweetener, although it’s more likely to be Truvia or Splenda. Still, he always includes a few Sweet ‘N Lows.
“In the proud, time-honored tradition carried on by little old ladies who dine out, those are the very same Sweet ‘N Lows my Mom lovingly re-appropriated from various restaurant tables and frugally slipped into her purse. That was in the ’70s and ’80s and those packets have never been opened, so they are almost as old as the glass basket.”? Cranberry Server
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in Patricia Driscoll’s house without her mother’s cranberry server.
Every thanksgiving the spoon with holes for draining came out and was placed beside the canned Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce that was a staple for Thanksgiving meals in the 1950s and 1960s.
Driscoll treasures this server for the memories it evokes of big family gatherings in Westport, Conn., where she grew up.
“This is the thing that seems to have lasted all these years and that makes me think of Thanksgiving,” said Driscoll, a retired San Francisco probation officer. She now writes a series of mystery novels about a character named Grace Tolliver on Cape Cod, where her mother lived for many years.
“When my mother died, I brought it back from Cape Cod because it’s such a memory for me,” said Driscoll, who will be hosting Thanksgiving for her family in her Santa Rosa home. “It doesn’t work as well for the recipe I use; cranberry with port and dried figs. But we use it anyway, drips and all.”
Every Thanksgiving, Kathy Hesse Larsen brings out the crystal glassware that her parents received as a wedding gift in December, 1941.
“They were brought out for special occasions when we were growing up. There were eight of us children and I completely understand why our parents did not use them often - rambunctious children and crystal are a bad combination,” said the retired principal of Penngrove School.