I am writing this in late summer, a few days after laying to rest my mother-in-law, Mary, beside her husband, who has been waiting more than 40 years for her in the leafy cemetery a short walk from our house. Mary was 96, ready to move on, so this is not a sad story. Instead, […]
By Mel Allen
Oct 20 2022
I am writing this in late summer, a few days after laying to rest my mother-in-law, Mary, beside her husband, who has been waiting more than 40 years for her in the leafy cemetery a short walk from our house. Mary was 96, ready to move on, so this is not a sad story. Instead, her passing reminded me again about the power of food to create memories that ripple through generations. I will always remember the countless Sunday outings to a local eatery for Mary’s favorite lobster crepe, and to the diner for fried clams that had to arrive on the plate with their bellies. And the drives to a popular ice cream stand that still carried frozen pudding.
Mary was a talented artist, a self-taught architect whose house plans shaped a number of residences in our area, and an activist who was known for her one-woman sign-wielding protests as she stood on the steps of town hall. She had many talents; cooking, however, was not one of them.
A few months after I met my future wife, we had a first family Thanksgiving together. In an effort to ingratiate myself to Mary, I volunteered to make the turkey and asked her advice. “Put it in before bed,” she said, “cook it at 250 degrees, and in the morning it will be done.” When I awoke, the house held the delicious aroma that pervades households around the country during the holidays. But when company arrived and I started carving, I immediately discovered that Mary’s method had put the poor bird in a severe drought, leaving 10 pounds of flaky meat, dry as sawdust. That was more than 15 years ago, and on many subsequent Thanksgivings we told the tale, as I followed a different way: duck fat–coated overnight, hot oven, few hours. Really good.
Mary did have one tried-and-true specialty: apple pie.She used only Macintosh apples and brushed her crust with milk for a golden sheen; I’d tell her it was the best pie I’d ever had, and I said that because it was truth. In her last years, the pies stopped. But not long before she slipped away, I told her that her apple pie will always be the best. In my memory she will reply without words, but with a glint in her eye and a smile.
This is my way of introducing our special food issue, with the hope that what you find in these pages will spark stories, memories, and even new traditions. Our food editor, Amy Traverso, created holiday dessert recipes [“How Sweet It Is,” p. 32], including the lemon-pistachio Bundt cake pictured on our cover, that are likely to be handed down like treasured heirlooms. She added a twice-baked potato casserole [“In Season,” p. 38] for the holiday feast, and, in what has become an annual tradition, rounded up the best New England–made food treats for our 10th anniversary Food Awards [p. 24].
There is another tradition that I keep in each holiday issue: a reminder of Edie Clark, Yankee’s beloved author of the “Mary’s Farm” column, about what she observed and felt from her hillside home. The way that good food brought friends together meant the world to her, and she wrote about that so memorably in an essay called “Orphan Holidays” [online at newengland.com/orphan-holidays].
When Edie’s readers send cards and greetings to her, it’s the best nourishment there is. Today she is up for drives and short walks, and she has never given up her hope of resuming writing. You can reach her here: Jaffrey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, 20 Plantation Dr., Jaffrey, NH 03452.
I hope the bounty inside this issue will nourish all of you also this season.