By Chef Kurt Michael Friese
Thanksgiving is America’s best holiday. People often talk about making every day Christmas, but I’ve always wished for making every day Thanksgiving. It’s not about presents; it’s about presence. It’s not about giving gifts; it’s about giving thanks. And my favorite part – it’s about the food, the Thanksgiving traditions! Thanksgiving is the one time of year when nearly every household in the nation is obsessed with the family meal. Would that it were always so.
One day per year, most of America pays attention to its food and its family traditions. Even though we all know that when we think back to the happiest moments of our lives, most of them are spent around a table brimming with our favorite foods and surrounded by family and friends, we ignore most of our opportunities to create more of these moments. There is a reason, after all, that words like companion, carnival and festival all have culinary etymologies. Yet these days food has become secondary in our lives.
So many important traditions have been lost over the last seven decades of chemical agriculture, processed foods and expedient mediocrity, and the most important of these is that we’ve stopped teaching our children how to cook. I believe my generation might be the last that learned to cook at Mom’s apron strings, where I inherited family recipes like my mother’s wild rice portobello dressing.
Over my half-century of life in America, I have witnessed what might one day be referred to as the most rapid and uncontrolled period of social evolution in human history, in which a mind-boggling array of influences conspired in a perfect storm of high technology and rampant, vapid consumerism. Cause and effect were conflated to a point where it was impossible to tell, most of the time, which was which. And somewhere in that rigmarole, America made the decision, as a culture, that it was preferable to leave not just food production, but also the actual act of feeding our families, up to large, distant corporations. With few exceptions, we feed our families the same way we feed our cars, and often with the same ingredient: corn.
This light, whipped sweet potato pie is one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes.
The Public Hearth
What’s needed is variety, “the spice of life,” as they say, and that comes from the hand of a solid home cook who knows ingredients, knows technique and has a deep and abiding love of family and friends.
With just a rudimentary knowledge of the foundations of cooking – how to make a stock, basic knife skills, the difference between fry and sauté – anyone can cook frugally, healthfully, deliciously and well. Add in an understanding of the nuances of flavor in each ingredient and a knowledge of herbs and spices, and you have the makings of a competent home cook. Toss in a few organizational skills and you’ll have a great home cook, one who does not stress out about the roast turkey leaving no room in the oven for the sweet potato pie.
One good way to spread the knowledge and passion for cooking would be what I call “The Public Hearth,” a clearinghouse for best practices and simple ideas that teaches the fundamentals of cooking to anyone young or old, rich or poor, and inspires legions of cooks to inspire legions of cooks.
Cooking is the most tangible way we have of expressing our love to our family and friends, and we need a lot more of it.
About the Author: Chef Kurt Michael Friese graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, where he also served as a Chef-Instructor. With 34 years of professional food service experience, he has been chef and owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City, Iowa, restaurant and bar Devotay for 17 years. Chef Kurt is partnering with Frontier and Simply Organic to bring you recipes and tips for rediscovering and reinventing your own traditions this holiday season. Find more recipes at frontiercoop.com/holidays and simplyorganic.com/holidays or watch cooking videos on YouTube.