By Cindy Bleuler Tucker
The worst Thanksgiving dishes I’ve ever eaten are those I have made. I have this bad habit of trying out new recipes for the first time and taking it to a family event, usually on my mother-in-law’s side of the family. So one side of the family is convinced I can’t cook.
One Thanksgiving I found a great recipe for a cheese-onion-potato casserole. You slice the potatoes, place in the casserole dish, and place onion slices and cheese on top. I think butter, too. Easy enough, how could I ruin that?
I cooked the casserole for an hour as per the recipe. It looked really good and I was optimistic. Only one problem: the potatoes were half raw. We had to go, so we grabbed the casserole and vainly hoped that it would somehow keep baking on the way-you know, residual heat. It doesn’t work.
Maw Maw Chapman, the matriarch of the family, made no bones about the success or failure of a dish. In front of the entire family, she would call out your name and say don’t bring that again!” There was no leaving your casserole on the table and slinking away, hoping no one had seen you bring it in.
Imagine my humiliation when she told my husband, “You can just bring the bread every year.” This was not in praise of my great bread-making skills: “Wal-Mart makes some really good garlic bread. All you have to do is heat it up.”
Sometimes I would make a familiar dish and try to tweak it. I was preparing the rice casserole in which you put the rice in a glass casserole dish, pour in a can of French onion soup and a can of beefy mushroom soup, over it and place a stick of butter on top. You can Double it for family events. Trying to make an unhealthy dish a little healthier, I decided to forego the instant white enriched rice and use regular brown rice.
During this family dinner my daughter told me, “Mom, this good, but the rice is a little crunchy.”
The all time worst holiday dish I ever made was the infamous fruit pizza.
I saw a picture of a delightful, colorful, round sweet cookie- like crust topped with a cream cheese-sugar mix. On top of this you place sliced kiwi, strawberries, and blueberries. This would be something colorful, different, and a little healthy. I thought it was a perfect balance of good sugar and bad sugar. It was work, but oh so pretty.
I lovingly mixed and baked the crust. It was a beautiful light golden brown. I spread the bottom layer and carefully placed rows of blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi. It was splendid! Oh, my mother-in-law would praise my creativity! A new annual family dessert was born! It would rival my brother-in-law’s wife’s pretzel salad!
This is the kind of dessert that you immediately stick in the refrigerator to let the cream cheese spread firm up
This is not the kind of dessert you cover, quickly carry out to the car (because you are 30 minutes late) and hold in your lap as your husband begins a 30 minute drive down the mountain and then racing on the freeway because, as I said, we were 30 minutes late.
We get to my mother-in law’s house and my husband carries in the fruit pizza and sets it on the dessert table. I uncover it.
Gone are the oh so carefully arranged uniform rows. Blueberries mixed with strawberries, kiwi about to slide off the plate. I tried to straighten the rows, but there was no time. Everyone was ready to eat. “That looks interesting,” says my mother-in law. “Interesting,” words which are the kiss of death.
As we ate dinner, the pizza went through a strange metamorphosis. The fruit had gotten a little watery. This liquid congealed to make a gooey mess.
My husband loyally and joylessly cut a piece and put it on his plate. He took a bite and looked at me. He didn’t say a word. I took a piece and ate it. Wet pizza crust has a really nasty consistency.
Oh the humiliation of bringing a dessert that is barely touched as the other desserts are devoured.
After we had eaten and enough time had passed that we could actually think about the possibility of eating again, we began planning Christmas dinner and who would bring what. My mother-in law looked at my husband. She didn’t have to say a word.
“I know. Bring the garlic bread”, he answered.
Cindy Bleuler Tucker is a retired Walker County school teacher who resides in Lookout Mountain, with husband Tony and daughter Rebecca Leighanne. Leighanne, out of a sense of self-preservation, is an excellent cook.