November 2012

Remembrance of Thanksgivings Past

Though my parents were immigrants to the U.S., we embraced the Thanksgiving Holiday, complete with all the traditional Thanksgiving foods: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and, of course, turkey, stuffing, and gravy.


A day or so before Thanksgiving, the turkey, if frozen, came out of the freezer and went to soak in some cold water in the sink to thaw. But Thanksgiving morning, the preparations began in earnest. Bright and early in the morning, probably as early as some children get up on Christmas day, I would bound out of bed because I had an important job to do. My job was to toast and cube the many loaves of store-bought bread that would go into the stuffing. The toaster came off the counter and onto the kitchen table to be better able to access it. I sat at the table, happily toasting and cubing amidst the bustle of other activities. On top of the stove, onions and celery were being fried in butter for the stuffing. The turkey was washed, inside and out, and the neck, the liver, but not the kidneys nor the heart, went into a pot with some vegetables and water for the turkey stock. The sweet potatoes were washed.
Finally, mid-morning, everything was ready to be assembled. Toast cubes were mixed with onions and celery in an enormous bowl with generous amounts of poultry seasoning. When everything was mixed, we all got small bowls of this stuffing for our breakfasts. Then the stuffing of the bird commenced. Thread and needle were prepared. Someone would stand the turkey up while someone else packed the stuffing into main cavity. Slices of apple were positioned at the opening. And then skin was overlapped and stitched with needle and thread. The bird was flipped over and more stuffing was put into the other end. More thread was used to tie the legs together, a roasting pan was lined with aluminum foil, and the bird went into the pan, covered with more aluminum foil, and finally put in the oven. At some point, sweet potatoes were positioned around the roasting pan.


Then there was the waiting, during which the china was taken out of storage boxes and the table was set. After hours of cooking, the turkey was finally removed from the oven and the frantic last-minute making of the gravy using the stock and the all-important drippings from the roasting pan took place. Around the table, dishes were piled high with slices of jellied cranberry sauce from a can, baked sweet potatoes cut in half, turkey slices, mountains of stuffing, and hot gravy poured over it all.

Now, preparations proceed at a more leisurely pace, since dinner is often late in the afternoon. Marriage brought another tradition into my family preparations: my husband makes pies, both a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie, usually baked the night before.Fresh cranberry relish replaces the canned jellied cranberry sauce. The dressing includes kale from our garden. We are now vegetarians, so there is no turkey to stuff, but a celebratory roast from Field Roast to bake. Gravy is made with vegetable stock. Sweet potatoes are still baked, but sometimes wild rice with mushrooms is added to the menu. Something green, usually a salad, is included.

Family gathers. Festivities begin.


Perennial Leads to Soup, Thoughts of the Grandmother Who Once Made It

This post first appeared on on November 17, 2012

In previous posts, I introduced two plants in the international collection of green leafy perennials growing in my garden: Russian Kale and Italian Cardoon. Today, I want to talk about a third plant, French Sorrel.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have much of a garden, but one plant that we grew year after year in our tiny backyard was sorrel.

Sorrel is a perennial green with a tart, lemony taste to the leaves. I loved picking the leaves and munching on their sour goodness. (As I mentioned before, I was a child with an unusual predisposition to like strange vegetables and fruits).

My babushka, who lived with us, would make a sorrel soup. We called it, in Russian, schavel. She must have learned how to cook this soup in her native Belarus, and I learned to devour this soup with delight. But then my grandmother died; I moved away from my childhood home; and I forgot all about both sorrel and schavel.

A couple of years ago I saw sorrel advertised in one of those seed catalogs that I get in the mail every winter and the thought of schavel compelled me to buy a seed packet of French Sorrel. I planted the seeds next to the asparagus in the perennial garden bed behind the garage. And then I went in search of a recipe for schavel.

My mum did not remember the recipe, but she did have lots of Slavic cookbooks. I perused them with her, trying to find a recipe that was close to what we remembered that her mother, my babushka, made. In “Traditional Ukrainian Cookery” by Savella Stechishin, we found a recipe for schavel that was pretty close but not quite the same. So we modified.

Here is our recipe:


Sorrel Soup

1 onion, chopped

3-4 stalks celery

6 cups vegetable broth

3 cups chopped sorrel

1/2 cup sour cream




Fry the onion and celery in butter or olive oil until transparent and soft. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the chopped sorrel and continue cooking. The sorrel will wilt and get soft quickly. Slowly add the sour cream to the soup, stirring so that lumps do not form. Heat through. Season with salt, pepper and dill. Puree the soup in a blender. Serve with homemade bread, butter and more sour cream.


Sorrel is derived either from the Germanic word “sur” or from the French word “surele” that, in both cases, means “sour.” Its flavor derives from oxalic acid, a compound present in rhubarb leaves (which we don’t eat) as well as in spinach and chard (which we do eat). While high amounts of oxalic acid should be avoided by those with kidney problems, healthy individuals should be able to eat sorrel without any problems. Sorrel is easy to grow, comes back year after year and is useful for flavoring soups and sauces.

Sorrel soup is sometimes served with a hard boiled egg, cut in slices, in the bottom of the bowl. Though I have never had this soup with egg, the description in “Here Is Where We Meet: A Story of Crossing Paths”, by John Berger, does make me bit nostalgic.

You cut the egg into slices, and you eat it with the green soup. And the mixture of the sharp green acidity and the round comfort of the egg reminds you of something extraordinary and far away.

Sorrel, green, lemony, tart and altogether good, is a great addition to the homesteader’s garden.