Since I moved to Israel from America 12 years ago, Thanksgiving, as with other US holidays I loved, hasn’t meant as much to me. Mentally, I’m on the Israeli calendar, and the religious holidays (like Passover and Rosh Hashana), and secular holidays (like Yom Ha’atzmaut) are much more important. However, sometimes my wife and I are invited, by friends from the US, to a traditional Thanksgiving for a meal with “all the trimmings.”
Before I introduce the villain of the tale, here’s a little background: I despise mixing sweet with savory. I don’t like, for instance, cinnamon raisin bagels, or when people put fruit – be it grapes or raisins – in an otherwise perfectly tasty salad (sometimes even in chicken salad!) or on a meat dish. And, don’t even get me started on “Hawaiian Pizza.” Fruit doesn’t belong on pizza. Yes, I know. tomatoes are technically a fruit, but it clearly “identifies” as a vegetable. I mean, really, when was the last time you saw a bowl of fruit on a kitchen table that included a tomato, or see someone bite into a tomato as if it was a hand fruit?
It’s not that I don’t have a sweet tooth, I do. I prefer savory over sweet, but sweet has its place. But, let’s just say that, when it comes to these two classes of food, I believe both should stay in their respective lanes. By the way, my wife is the opposite. Her sweet tooth is prolific, and in fact, she loves combining sweet and savory. Actually, on one of our early dates, she shocked me by eating potato chips and chocolate at the same time – a handful of chips, then a bite of chocolate, a handful of chips, more chocolate, etc. Despite these differences, our marriage has survived. But, I digress.
Flash to the scene of a Thanksgiving dinner in Modi’in a couple of year ago. We’re all having a nice time, engaged in good conversation, and, because I was holding our baby, the host kindly offered to serve me, which was fine until he put his oversize serving spoon deep into the bowl of the sweet, dark red gelatinous glob known as cranberry sauce. To my host’s credit, he didn’t flinch when I (with as much politeness as I could muster) turned it down (or when I turned down the candy yams), but I did detect other eyes around the table suspiciously glancing at this ungrateful guest who radically broke with hundreds of years of American tradition. I had become the Colin Kapernick of American ex-pats.
My other problem with cranberry sauce is that it’s overrated in any context. It’s just not a serious food. At best, it’s like the culinary version of a mediocre TV show you watch because it’s on between two excellent shows. (Let’s face it, NBC could have put reruns of McLean Stevenson’s short-lived “Hello, Larry” on between The Simpsons and Seinfeld back in the 90s, and it would have gotten respectable ratings).
Cranberry sauce’s only claim to fame is that it’s associated with Thanksgiving. Like Paris Hilton and Zsa Zsa Gabor, cranberry sauce is famous for being famous. It has no business sidling up to, corrupting and defiling the dignified, savory foods that belong on a Thanksgiving plate: Turkey with gravy, stuffing and/or mashed potatoes and string beans (preferably in casserole form). Even now, the mere thought of the cranberry juice mingling with the otherwise flawless piece of gravy-laden dark meat, which was carefully cooked, basted and attended to for hours, gives me the shivers.
My answer to this madness isn’t to merely delegitimize the pairing. No, that just won’t suffice. I want to end the grotesque culinary practice entirely – to relegate it to the stupidity of a bygone era, like smoking on airplanes or adding real cocaine to Coca-Cola. There’s no re-imagining, reforming, re-tooling, or rehabilitating to be done. Cranberry sauce is beyond redemption.
It has no right to exist!