“You’re just a regular Caddie Woodlawn, aren’t you,” my mom declared with maybe a hint of sarcasm. It was Thanksgiving, and I’d brought 10 side dishes and desserts—all homemade, from scratch, the way the Woodlawns might have. Caddie was fictional, a pioneer girl running amok in the wilds of Wisconsin, but her story was set against the true backdrop of the Civil War and when Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a holiday in 1863.
“I hope she keeps a few for us … turkeys and cranberry sauce! Um—yum!” Caddie’s brother said, as the children returned home with “buckets heavy with cranberries.” Their mother had taken the wagon to town to sell the turkeys she raised.
But “out in this barbarous country all folks want to eat is salt pork,” Mrs. Woodlawn cries as she returns with a wagon full of gobblers.
“We are going to eat them!” she declared. “We’ll hang them up and freeze them when the cold weather comes. We’ll have roast turkey and cranberry sauce every day this winter!”
“Hooray!” shouted the Woodlawn children.
I loved the story of Caddie’s pioneer family when I was little. Not that I ever aspired to raise and kill my own turkeys or even pick my own cranberries. Compared to Caddie, I fall pretty short.
But compared to myself even just a year ago, I’ve come a lot closer.
To celebrate Thanksgiving without grain, dairy, or sugar, I started cooking a whole week ahead. Thank goodness for freezers. And thank goodness for cookbooks, especially Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain and Celebrations. I made cookies from sunflower seed butter, made herb dropped biscuits with sage, rosemary, and thyme (next time I’ll add parsley just to match the Simon & Garfunkel song), and made a chocolate cookie pie crust out of almond flour, and crowded them all in the freezer. I tried to make one thing each day over the next week and added squash, mashed cauliflower, cranberry sauce, and roasted honey walnuts to my pile of dishes to bring.
Then I tried to tackle an apple pie.
I’ve never made an apple pie before. Or any pie, for that matter. But with my husband’s and our two kids’ help, we got it done in one late, long, back-aching night after work. I made the crust; they peeled, cored, and sliced the apples. I’m so thankful for times like these, when the kitchen just glows with laughter and cooperation. I’m thankful I was able to give my son a gluten-free apple pie this year (he’d been reminding me for a month he wanted apple pie “with a crust” at Thanksgiving). And I’m thankful the pie actually turned out, for the most part—the cinnamony apples were yummy, but the crust was probably an inch too thick.
The green bean casserole was similarly a semi-success. The sauce, made from mushrooms, shallots, garlic, chicken stock (homemade), and cashew cream (also homemade), was delicious but thin. The green beans sat atop the sauce rather than nestled inside. And the beans themselves didn’t cook very well, staying crunchy. Fine, and edible—just different. And of course, my kids refused it. It seems any time I put tons of extra work in to make a special, fancy vegetable dish, they just want their plain, boring, everyday ones. Still, I’m thankful for all the veggies they do eat.
My husband made a sugar- and dairy-free chocolate custard pie to fill the other crust I’d made, and he made fluffy whipped cream from coconut milk. My mom made a GFCFSF pumpkin pie. Rounded out with the turkey, we were stuffed with food on Thanksgiving—and again two days later, when we again celebrated the holiday with my husband’s family. His mom and sisters all brought even more food, and even with all the leftovers afterward, I was so full of comfort food (even healthy comfort food makes you full!) I wanted anything but Thanksgiving fare. And after a week of practically nonstop cooking, I desperately wanted to not cook again. As much as I try, I could never be Caddie Woodlawn. I need a break from the kitchen. I thought about kicking back on the couch, watching Christmas movies with the kids, and ordering a pizza.
But I didn’t—at least, not the pizza. Last, but not least, I’m thankful for shortcuts to healthy food that weren’t available to pioneer women like Caddie and Mrs. Woodlawn. For take-out lemon-kale soup from the nearby grocery co-op and the pre-sliced veggie tray my sister-in-law left us, I am extremely thankful.
I’m also thankful for all my family and extended family I didn’t mention in this post!