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Dishing up memoriesDishing up memories

Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: Every dish on the table has a story at Thanksgiving.

Jennifer M. Latzke

November 17, 2023

4 Min Read
sliced canned cranberry jelly on plate
QUIVERING, YET SOLID, TRADITION: From canned cranberry jelly logs to pies and more, Thanksgiving is a time to dish up memories of family and friends.bhofack2/Getty images

It’s my considered opinion that there are two kinds of families at Thanksgiving — those with a family stuffing recipe written on a stained notecard that’s been handed down through at least three generations, and those who only serve Stove Top stuffing out of the box.

Now, I try really hard to not food-shame anyone. I myself enjoy a bit of Stove Top now and then. It’s a handy pantry staple.

But on Thanksgiving at the Latzke household, the Stove Top stayed in the pantry, and my mom’s sausage, mushroom and wild rice stuffing recipe card came out. It wasn’t Thanksgiving until Mom hauled out the big kettle and made a giant batch of that stuffing. And the year she trusted me with the recipe for the family meal, I knew I was officially a grown-up.  

I bet when you think about Thanksgiving, you, too, associate memories of family members with food. You may have a cattleman dad like mine who grudgingly ate poultry one meal a year. Or maybe you have that relish tray aunt who can’t cook, but can open a jar of baby pickles and a can of olives.

Or you may be that cousin that everyone asks to bring paper plates and drinks — because the one time they trusted you with bringing the side dish, you showed up with a tub of warm potato salad.

Thanksgiving at our house was all about tradition. And even today, I make dishes the same way my mom taught me or set the table her way. Out of comfort, and also to remind me of family members long gone.

Cranberry times two

Take, for example, the two versions of cranberry dishes we had every Thanksgiving — and why. So first was Mom’s homemade cranberry, apple and orange Jell-O salad. The night before Thanksgiving, she would puree the fruit and mix it with red Jell-O in a glass dish and let it set up nice and pretty. It was visually appealing, and generally, everyone in the family liked it.

Everyone except Grandpa. For him, nothing else would do but a log of canned Ocean Spray cranberry jelly, sliced along the can indentions, and presented on Mom’s square crystal platter. It provided the family a chuckle every year, seeing him dish up a slice of that congealed glop over the homemade stuff.

I asked him once when I was young why he had to have the canned jelly, and he said it reminded him of his mom and her Thanksgiving table. After that, when I would set the table, I’d make sure that platter was closest to him.

For years after we lost him to cancer, and his chair sat there empty, we still put out the canned jelly — even though no one would take a slice.

My mom as Thanksgiving hostess would take care of the bulk of the dishes, with my and my sister’s help. But my grandma always brought the pies.

Oh, she’d put in her time slaving over the main meal back in the day, but she retired and passed the ladle to my mom. It was her privilege as the family matriarch to just bring the desserts and let her girls fill in the rest of the menu.

Love, the key ingredient

She would come in the door with a box of pies — an apple pie for my dad, cherry for my brother, blackberry for my aunt, pecan for Grandpa, and at least two pumpkin pies for the whole family to ensure leftovers. Making sure we each had our favorite was her love language.

I’ve had a lot of slices of pie in the two decades since she passed, but none compare. I think they’re missing the love ingredient.

Every dish on the Thanksgiving table reminds me of family and friends, from years gone by and from today. There’s the memory of my cousin who would only eat rolls, and the other cousin who would only eat Snickers Salad. Or the story of my brother as a toddler eating all the olives off my aunt’s plate when no one was looking. And now, when I see a casserole dish of creamed corn, I think about the Thanksgiving I met my boyfriend’s family and was accepted with love.

Maybe that’s the secret of Thanksgiving. Sitting around a table, surrounded by family, making memories with every dish.

Even if the dish is Stove Top stuffing.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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