Beatrice Ojakangas: Pandemic won't stop Thanksgiving memories

A lot has gone amiss in the past so in a way, this year is both unlike and exactly like the others.

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)

What are you having for Thanksgiving? I am relishing memories. We have lots of great memories β€” of families and friends arriving, carrying covered dishes. Each one the specialty of that person β€” a special salad, wild rice casserole, appetizer.

I remember with fondness the venison sausage of a nephew, the crisp salad brought by a niece β€” the appetizers, pies and many delicious offerings of sisters and brothers. I remember the hunting stories, the adventures of travelers β€” and how we didn’t have table space for everybody, so we had to spread out all over the house.

I remember how the little kids would race into the basement to play with a cache of toys, and how some of the little ones would eat nothing but dessert. I remember finding a petrified Thanksgiving dinner on a paper plate days later in a secluded spot in the house.

Thanksgiving has always been more about families and friends gathering together than about the food. OK, the food has always been important to me, but it never was something to obsess about because we made it easy by sharing the cooking.


I remember how one year, someone left a toilet running, and the well went dry. More than once, the sewer plugged up. One year, I had an oven that quit working. I also remember running out of milk or butter. Another time, we were snowed in β€” I had cooked three turkeys and no side dishes, and others who stayed at their homes ate just mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. Or, as my daughter reminded me β€” remember the year that I had boned and stuffed a turkey to make an elaborate galantine and because I had no room in the refrigerator, I set it out on a table in the garage to cool, and the dog pushed open the door, got in and ate it? Yet we survived.

This year is one we will remember, too, as we struggle with Zoom and try to satisfy the craving to be with others. I will cook a small, half-of-a-turkey breast, and some little potatoes that I will smash and drizzle with butter, and make a few breadsticks because they keep well and are easy. Dessert will probably be an ice cream bar rather than a whole pumpkin pie.

It's a year to reflect a bit. What am I thankful for? What are you thankful for? We do have a lot to be thankful for even at this time with covid running rampant and a lonesome feeling for those we hold dear.

When the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, the pilgrims were thankful for a successful harvest. As I remember the story, the day was celebrated by the Native Americans and the settlers at the same time. The meal included a long list of American foods: corn, deer, duck, goose and turkey. Also clams, shellfish, smoked eel, cornbread, leeks, watercress and other greens, wild plums, and dried berries. There was also wine made from wild grapes.

The first Thanksgiving was a great success, and the old and new Americans repeated it, creating a holiday tradition in New England. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day nationwide. Today, we observe the holiday on the fourth Thursday in November.

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Easy and Quick Crunchy Breadsticks (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Easy and Quick Crunchy Breadsticks

Just stir up this easy yeast dough and cut it up into about 20 pieces. Shape the pieces into long ropes and bake them along with the turkey breast. We just like to eat them dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you have kids at home and are looking for ideas for a meaningful activity, let them mix the dough and shape them before baking. Not many hard and fast rules here!


3 cups bread or all-purpose flour

1 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons (or 2 packages) active dry yeast

About 1 cup warm water

About ΒΌ cup olive or vegetable oil

Measure all the dry ingredients into a bowl and stir in the water and oil to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Roll each out to make a rope about 15 inches long and place them side-by-side on a greased cookie sheet. Let rise while the oven preheats to 300 degrees. (Or whatever temperature you are baking the turkey breast at.) Bake for about 30 minutes or until the sticks are dry and lightly browned. Makes 20.

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.

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