Through the Fire
My mother never liked turkey. My Dad got one free from his work every year, so she faithfully cooked it and did all the trimmings. As soon as dinner was over, and dishes were done, she would still be in the kitchen getting started on the turkey soup. She would take off all the good turkey meat, scoop out most of the dressing and plop that carcass into the stock pot to get the soup going. After cooking the bones for a few hours, she would let it cool, add onions, carrots, and celery, some salt and pepper. A small amount of rice, some of the “good” turkey meat would go in as would some odds and ends of dressing. That was it. Let it simmer for a few hours and we would have it the next few days.
The pieces of turkey that she saved mostly went for sandwiches which were my Dad and brothers’ favorite part of Thanksgiving. We always had our feast mid day and sure enough, there would be turkey sandwiches made for a late dinner. The “boys” ate sandwiches and I am not sure what my mom and I usually had – probably plain turkey and vegetables.
I like turkey but the day after soup has always been and continues to be my favorite part. Like Mother, like Daughter…. except that NEVER has my soup tasted like hers. I tried for so many years on those years when I didn’t have Thanksgiving with my parents. I tried to do as she told me. Just didn’t taste as good. I would call her and tell her what I had done. Try again the next time I made a turkey. I went through a creative period where I just went my own way, where I got too fancy. For heavens sake, I put peas in the soup! or mushrooms, or rice pasta! What was I thinking ? Arrogant me was thinking if I couldn’t make HER soup, perhaps I could make better soup. I have made some really good turkey soup in my day. Now I just change it up every time I make it. I gave up on re making Mom’s soup a long time ago. Read this for a post I wrote all about what makes a good pot of soup.
As I grew more into middle age, and had some good years of cooking experience, I realized what my soup was missing ! It was her love and her history. Those are some of the magic ingredients every good cook has and uses in every recipe.
There is just an interesting alchemy that happens during cooking. The past combines with the present. The cook influences the process in some subtle way. The French say that a dish has that certain “je ne sais quoi”, meaning, ” I don’t know what”. I have had several personal chef clients over the years for whom I have made a pot of soup every week. I tell them at the beginning that even if I follow the same recipe, it’s never going to taste exactly the same again. In a way, this is too bad when you think you have made the best soup or the best salad dressing, etc. of your life. And, in another way, I like it. It makes me appreciate the moment and truly savor it. Who knows, the next pot just might be the best turkey soup EVER.
This year, I was a guest for Thanksgiving dinner, and forgot to ask if I could have some bones to make some turkey soup. I usually do that if I am not the hostess. I have the kind of friends/family who are happy to share. In her later years in life, when she stopped cooking holiday feasts, my mother would also ask. Again, like mother, like daughter. This time, that’s a good thing. My mother’s birthday is mid November so I think of her a lot this time of year. Next time I go shopping I’m going to buy some turkey wings and legs to make some good turkey stock. Let’s see what kind of soup I come up with this time. I’ll raise my spoon to Mama and thank her once again for passing down that love of turkey soup and the joy of cooking.