Dear Fellow Parishioners,
Many of you know that I have been a bit “under the weather” over the past week. Fr. Stuart and Msgr. Whelton have generously covered the parish Masses until I am more fully recovered from the nasty super-cold that has been going around. Like most of us, I can usually power through garden-variety sniffles, but respiratory afflictions are my Achilles heel. Several years ago, I lost my voice, and was not able to celebrate Mass publicly from St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) until the first week in July– three-and-a-half months later. I’m being careful this time.
I am most grateful for the industrial quantities of chicken soup (caldo de pollo, “Mexican penicillin”) that have arrived at the rectory. The “south of the border” versions usually have just enough chili to lend a bit of natural heat, both curative and comforting.
It is entirely proper to celebrate Thanksgiving first as an expression of gratitude to our creator. But so much of the Thanksgiving experience arises from the two senses most directly associated with human memory: taste and smell. The beauty of Thanksgiving is that memory and nostalgia are already built into the feast itself.
In her novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” Willa Cather – arguably America’s finest novelist – depicts the first bishop of the New Mexico Territory, loosely based on a true historical figure, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first Archbishop of Santa Fe. In a humble moment of beautiful detail and insight, a French missionary priest serves the archbishop a perfectly prepared bowl of simple onion soup. The archbishop said, “When one thinks of it, a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.”
Our favorite Thanksgiving comfort food is connected to our mothers, grandmothers and families, to our culture and national history, and to a longing for the past. I’m always interested in what side dishes families are serving, as a statement of geographical or cultural identification: Scalloped potatoes or scalloped corn with a crumbled saltine crust – Midwestern. Indian pudding – New England. Ravioli or lasagna – Italian. Artichoke and Parmesan dip and sourdough bread – Northern California.
Perhaps the best nationally-known side dish is the green bean and mushroom soup casserole, invented in 1955 by Mrs. Dorcas Reilly, in the Campbell’s Soup Kitchens laboratory in Camden, New Jersey. It was purposely made from three non-perishable ingredients found in nearly any pantry. Mrs. Reilly invented other delicacies using Campbell’s products (Sloppy Joe’s, Tuna Noodle Casserole et al.) but nothing succeeded like the Green Monster. As of 2020, Campbell’s estimated that it was served at 20 million tables on Thanksgiving Day alone, and that 40% of their annual mushroom soup production went into some form of that dish. Since the inventive Mrs. Reilly worked for the Campbell’s Soup Kitchen Laboratory, it is unlikely that she received any royalties for her surprise invention. On the other hand, she created a true bit of Americana, remembered fondly (at least once a year) at tables across the country.
Fr. Bill Donahue