Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I'll travel with Wood Tick to his friend John's house outside of Kalispell; a mountaintop where John has patiently constructed a western town replica for a dozen years. There's a saloon, land and law office, trading post and a block house. There's an old hotel (where visitors stay) and his simple little two-room cabin. Every building is filled with antiques authentic to the theme of the shelter. It's a site to behold, and tomorrow his efforts will be graced with a couple dozen people and a big outdoor fire.
I've just chopped two heads of red cabbage. It' simmers away on the stove, filling the house with an unmistakeable aroma. I grew up with this Danish dish, a recipe passed on from my Grandma Nealson and who knows, perhaps her mother from Northern Denmark, Andrea. Aunt Sarina had her version. So did Minnie and Aunt Clara. As much as Thanksgiving and the holiday season cuts deep with remembrances, nothing pierces my heart like opening up my small brown file box and pulling out a recipe in a beloved's handwriting. Mom's mincemeat cookies. Willie Mae's Chess Pie. Aunt Fondelete's Baked Corn. Chlo's sweet potato casserole. Inga's Danish Pancakes. Just the names are enough to send one reeling. And today, it's Aunt Clara's Red Cabbage, scrolled in red ink and large, swirling handwriting. She comes alive on the stained index card, where cups and teaspoons are interspersed with comments and mild admonishments. "You notice the recipe calls for red cabbage but I use the white," she wrote, "the red is always so high priced." Or her final words, "I don't know if you can figure this out. Wish you had watched. It's hard to explain. You know how I cook."
Yes Aunt Clara. I know how you cooked. I spent infinite hours in your kitchen as you kneaded bread and mixed cookies. There was no place else on earth I wanted to be but next to you. But somehow I missed the days before Thanksgiving when you started the red cabbage. Just like I never saw you make my tall angel food birthday cake with clouds of double-boiler frosting that magically appeared on October 23rd. A handful of this, a dash of that. A taste to adjust. Life permeated with heart.
Thanksgiving. I give thanks for the potent combination of creativity and love. For those with the courage to live their dreams. To lay their passions upon this planet, from kitchens to mountaintops. On behalf of all life upon this planet.
AUNT CLARA'S RED CABBAGE (in her own words)
1 head good sized cabbage
2 T butter or oleo
1/3 c vinegar; 1/4 c water
1 tsp salt
1/3 c sugar
2 T grape jelly
Shred the cabbage. Melt butter in large pan and add cabbage; stir to coat.
Add everything except the jelly and cook at least 3 hours over low heat. Then, if it doesn't taste right I just add a little sugar, vinegar or whatever I think it needs. The jelly I put in last hour or so. It helps to color it. (If you use white cabbage.)
(She made this at least a day ahead of time; let it sit, reheated and adjusted it the next day. It's a luscious sweet and sour dish; the kind of thing you either loved or disdained. Dis-Daned. :^)
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