Thanksgiving at Aunt Grace’s House: Please, pass the Mold . . . | Pamela’s Food Service Diary –

Cranberry jelly can be eased out of the can to show off the ribbings of the can, if one so desires. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As the family sat down to the Thanksgiving feast this year, I admired our fennel sausage-rice stuffing, the turkey and the pièce de résistance for my father at the Thankgiving table — the lasagna. And I reflected on what the holiday was like at my Aunt Grace’s house in New Jersey as a kid. On my mother’s side of the family, we celebrated a most a traditional kind of celebration with Great Depression era food flourishes, for better or worse.
Over the Hills of Dongan to the Garden State Parkway we went. My father was not a fan of the McMullen brand of cooking and, from the front seat, he’d speak of woeful of things in our near future like Aunt Grace’s gravy, peas and a dry bird. Although hotly anticipated by Aunt Grace from the English-Irish-Scandinavian side of the family was my grandmother’s famed dish and gift to the gathering…. simply called — Mold.
“Do you like my Mold?” my grandmother would ask us individually, proudly showing off the creation, bits of fruit suspended in a green or orange Jell-O ring.
“Pamela, you didn’t compliment my Mold,” she’d say seriously.
Mold was perfection only to be rivaled by one of Aunt Grace’s triumphs on the table — jellied cranberry sauce showing off the ribbings of the can from whence it came. Ye, modern Pilgrims of little soft food faith must understand the beauty of delivering that stuff from the can so perfectly intact — tap! tap! — culinary art birthed onto a plate.
Enough on the marveling. Our feast began with Uncle Wesley saying grace. My favorite prayer selection was, “Tweet tweet. Thanks for the meat. Yay, God!” followed by “Dig in!” and a litany of corny jokes.
They’d roll like, “What did the hunter say to the turkey on Thanksgiving Day?”
(Wait for it.)
A slice of pumpkin pie for the traditional Thanksgiving table (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel) Pamela Silvestri
I would laugh so hard my grandmother would accuse me of being “punch drunk.” And when the jokes veered awkwardly to the off-color variety or became political, most of the guests, my father at the lead, exited quickly to a sunken living room to go watch football.
In the hour of Mold clean up and making way for pumpkin pie, I would escape to Aunt Grace’s bedroom “vanity table.” She had dozens of stick-like sample cologne bottles and perfumes with fancy atomizers. In the drawers were makeup items by what seemed like the hundreds — lipstick tubes, eye shadow, face powder, blushers and nail polish — little girl heaven. I tried on just about everything. With fumes from “Charlie” mingled with honeysuckle and “Youth Dew,” we’d drive home with the windows open.
Aunt Grace thought it was cute about the cosmetics but warned on her new stuff — something to the effect of, “Easy on the Halston, Pamela!” — with a nervous giggle.
One particularly mirthful Thanksgiving, I thought my chuckle-loving Uncle Wes would appreciate a good prank. They had several alarm and radio clocks in their room so I set them all for random times throughout the night.
Uncle Wes called the next day — laughing pretty heartily, actually — that Aunt Grace lost a little beauty sleep. He assured me there would be a return gag the next Thanksgiving. Ha ha.
As jovial as things could be, we learned to never speak pejoratively about Aunt Grace’s food — criticism neither spoken nor implied. Never. A lesson learned when my Uncle Jim one year said, “Aunt Grace, the gravy is actually good this year.”
Zing. Ouch. Oof. Oh, the look of betrayal on our hostess’ face. Those stages of grief were real. But as a distraction in one eternal moment, my Aunt Alice sincerely chimed in, “You’ll never guess how much I paid for this outfit!”
She showed off her fuchsia pant suit. With the vest, blazer, jewelry and lipstick of the same hue, Aunt Alice was head-to-toe in electric pink.
Looking very pleased, she said, “I got the whole outfit for a dollar — shoes included!”
Fueled with the satisfaction of what was probably a superlative Aunt Grace giblet gravy, everyone seemed genuinely impressed.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].
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