Corn and Peppers
I like Thanksgiving. A lot. I like the way it’s about gratitude and feasting and friends, I like the way it’s about preparing a table. And for me Thanksgiving is about learning to be an un-hyphenated American.
The first Thanksgiving I clearly remember was my fifth. I was in kindergarten. My black Lutheran school classmates and I made place mats by selecting bright-hued, Detroit-autumn leaves, placing them between sheets of wax paper--and ironing.
I wasn’t very interested in the Pilgrims, I sensed my father hated them, along with Christopher Columbus. He felt ‘the Indians,’ as he called them then, had been foolish to welcome the White Settlers who would kill them. I didn’t know anything about all that; I just knew the leaves were beautiful. And I was learning that I was a part of American history as well as a part of my family's history.
The pilgrims, funny folk with tall black hats and big belt buckles were apart of my story, and the Indians were too. Some how those two facts made me plain American and African-American. Thanksgiving knowledge.
This year in honor of the Native Americans who helped the pilgrims survive those first winters I made a simple corn chowder and served it up in hollowed out orange peppers.
To make the chowder I cut corn from the cob, about two ears for each person, and I seared it in a frying pan with a film of hot sweet butter. Next I put the warm slightly browned corn into a food processor and drizzled in just enough chicken broth to turn it into a thick soup-- about a cup of stock for every ten corn cobs. Finally, I stirred in a bit of butter, lets say two to three ounces, for ever ten corn cobs. I then seasoned the soup with sea salt and pepper and refrigerated. At least the second batch I refrigerated. The first batch I forgot to refrigerate and had to throw away—after learning, on the internet, that boiling the soup might kill the bacteria but it wouldn’t do anything about the poisonous toxins the bacteria had produced! I learned a lot making the second batch of soup with a smile. And not just about soup. I learned about not disturbing my own, hard won happy, my own peace.
When I was still in my crib I was food poisoned probably by dressing roasted in a turkey. When I was in high school I was assaulted Thanksgiving evening, after the meal, mere yards from where I had sat to table.
For years Thanksgiving was my hardest holiday. Then, I remembered the Indians. And I remembered the pleasure of ironing leaves innocently but not ignorantly, the truth of knowing we are connected to the turning of the year to beauty and rhythm in ways that can be beyond disturbance --if we choose to remember beauty and the patterns that bring us the expectation of joy, the patterns of welcome and love and feast and abundance.
In the calm of careful preparation I find haven. So much mayhem is mere impulse, chaotic and compulsive, mere response and consumption. Imagine and create, welcome and invite, await and cherish, is antidote to all of that.
I like waiting and welcoming in, and from my kitchen.
Just before serving the corn soup cut the tops off the orange peppers and scoop out the seeds. Take the orange pepper flesh of the tops and cut into strips. Broil those for a few minutes then put them in a clean ziplock to steam. Pull off the skins. Puree in the food processor. Reserved the orange pepper puree for the top of the soup. When you’re ready to serve the soup heat it gently adding milk and more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve the corn chowder in the orange pepper. I garnished my plate with toast leaves made from Pepperidge Farm thin white bread and cookie cutters and a fresh sage leaf. I served it with a bit of Benton’s prosciutto. The salty sweet of the ham waltzed on my tongue with the creamy sweet of the corn.
I took my stand for those who had been killed with germy blankets, saying for them and for me, no bad stangeness you do, can undo the goodness with which I am most intimate.