Why Weird is Relative

My grandfather, carving a Thanksgiving turkey

Why Weird is Relative

Every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions. For some it’s a weird gelatin with hot dogs and cabbage in it. These are the dishes that are made exactly once a year, the ones that half the family hates, but, no one can imagine having Thanksgiving without it sitting on the table.

Ours is butterball and noodle soup, which is not at all weird.

Ok, maybe it is. But it’s our weird. We all prefer our own flavors of weird.

Butterball and noodle soup is one of those classic “leftover” meals our ancestors made to use every bit of the resources available on the farm. Dry bread, chicken stock, cream, butter and eggs. At one time, I suspect, (putting on my know-it-all hat to cover the fact that I’ve no actual evidence for these statements) my ancestors had this dish more than once a year, maybe even a couple of times a month!

Now we’re city folk, and the dish that came from things “on hand” is now a shopping trip, where we purchase bread to dry it, and we don’t know the cow(s) that provide the dairy, nor do we stick our hands under a chicken to get eggs. The noodles will also be purchased, not made.

The stock will be provided by the other star of Thanksgiving, the turkey.

All that’s left to do? Try and remember the recipe.

You see, like any good “family recipe” there are hundreds of variations. Most of them have the ingredients listed above. Some mention sweetened condensed milk (avoid those, you’ll thank me). Others, probably in a misguided attempt to “reduce the fat content,” substitute margarine and half and half for the butter and cream. WRONG. This is not just from a flavor standpoint. This is from a “do you want your butterballs to hold together, or do you want to eat watery mush?” perspective.

Getting the right ingredients is only part of the equation. They need to be prepared “just so.” If not, the butterballs will fall apart. And everyone knows (well, everyone who’s our flavor of weird knows) that the true test of any cook is: “Can you make butterballs that don’t fall apart?” The second test, is “Do the butterballs taste like Grandma Kathryn’s?”

Everyone agrees that my great-grandmother made it best. Her butterballs always stayed together and always tasted wonderful.

It has been 20 years since I was given the sacred duty of making the butterballs, a test of cookery and a rite of passage. It hardly mattered that I had never made them, or that I’d never tasted anything my great-grandmother had cooked, my mother was rumored to have therecipe.

Could I live up to my namesake?

My grandfather, who loved this soup but had struggled for decades to reclaim the food memory of eating the soup at grandma’s table, was so hopeful, he offered to make the breadcrumbs. No one remembered him ever doing that.

I was feeling the pressure.

After two days work, butterballs came out of the fridge and slid into the hot soup. When we sat down to eat, the balls were still intact, a hopeful sign. Grandpa took a bite, but held a poker face. Everyone watched him, not even breathing, waiting for his verdict.

“You done good, Katie,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. And everyone set to eating it, and was thankful.

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