Thanksgiving Out of a Can

I was interviewed yesterday on The Recipe Box about National Tie One On Day. During the show, the host, Barbara Howard, read an email from a listener that basically said, I don’t cook, I open cans, which I think was her excuse for not participating in NTOOD. “You’ll have to do better,” I answered, “because when it came to opening a can and calling it cooking, my mother was the champ.”
And no meal lent itself more to Mama’s can cuisine than Thanksgiving. The green bean casserole? 1 can condensed mushroom soup + 1 can drained green beans + 1 can French fried onion rings = voila! Cranberry sauce? Straight from the can onto a lettuce lined plate, it bore the indentations of the container.
Years into adulthood, when the Thanksgiving meal became my domain, that casserole was laid to rest and fresh cranberry sauce replaced canned. This year’s recipe is as easy as opening a can, but tastes so much better: 2 cups cranberries + 1 cup orange juice (not from concentrate) + 1/2 cup sugar, stirred over medium heat until sauce begins to thicken (15 minutes or so). Chill & serve on a lettuce lined platter, an homage to my mother.
A cranberry log atop leaves of lettuce was traditional to more Thanksgiving tables than just ours. When I first saw this 1942 Thanksgiving snapshot, I immediately noticed the log in the glass server. I remember laughing because it so reminded me of my mother. Then, I took in the scene: a family with four military-serving sons home on leave for the holiday.

My Dad was also in the Navy. I don’t know where he was Thanksgiving of 1942, but according to this newspaper clipping dated May 20, 1941, he was due home in late June on a ten-day leave. The handwriting on the clipping is his mother’s, my Grandma Birdye. She kept it in an envelope, along with a photo of her sailor boy.
Over the next four years, there are more clippings, but none suggest he returned to SC on leave. His discharge card is dated October 8, 1945, and then he shipped home, in time to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
What with the scurrying taking place today and tomorrow, by so many traveling home for Thanksgiving, my mind is stuck on the military, and the empty place settings at too many tables in far too many homes.
Before carving the turkey and diving into a heavenly blob of mashed potatoes, it should be law that each and every one of us gives thanks for those in the service, and prays for their homecoming, which is a world of difference than home on leave.
Now, let’s all tie one on…an apron, of course! and get ready for National Tie One On Day!


  1. Ok, I cook the heck out of Thanksgiving (though this year my major plan is going out to eat with friend), but I have to say, no matter how fancy the rest of the meal is … it isn’t Thanksgiving without ridges in the cranberry jelly! 🙂

  2. Thanks for your message! As a military wife far from relatives, there have been years when I’ve been on my own for Thanksgiving. So despite the stress and hard work, I am delighted to serve a Thanksgiving meal when I can and I try to pull out all the stops. To fill our table we invite our non-American friends and neighbours. They are delighted to share the holiday with us — we’ve found that the holiday’s sentiments are universal and know no culture bounds (despite the canned cranberry sauce)!

  3. EllynAnne, you write so beautifully. Thanks for sharing about your Dad.

    I haven’t cooked a full Thanksgiving in quite some time. We used to co-ordinate with neighbors for a giant feast.

    Now we go Down east to Hubby’s family gathering. It’s a wonderful affair with folks dropping in all day and a simple soup and sandwich supper. More desserts than anyone can possibly taste (we’ve tried!)

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