Making the Thanksgiving menu can cause rifts between families, but it can also make them closer together. (Photo by lookslikeamy/Flickr)

SpanglishBaby: Ingredients for a Thanksgiving drama – butter, bread and abuela’s recipes

The biggest fights in the early part of my marriage revolved around a recipe. A Thanksgiving recipe. For stuffing no less! It sounds absolutely ridiculous to me now, typing those words out loud — and frustrating that we wasted so much emotion over an innocuous mass of old bread and drippings. But then, it really wasn’t a battle of corn versus white bread to begin with. If this fight had a name it would be Babita v. Hazel, the battle of two people trying to preserve their grandmothers’ legacies.

Babita was my husband Adrian’s grandmother. She lived next door with her husband (named Babito, of course) raising Adrian and his sister alongside their parents. Babita emigrated from Cuba in 1962,  but she adopted the American Thanksgiving wholesale, cooking up the traditional meal — you know, turkey bathed in mojo and naranja agria (sabrosósimo) with black beans and rice. Lacking her own recipe for stuffing she found two. One she clipped from the local Spanish-language newspaper and is rich with apples and nuts. The other is thick with ham. My husband, keeper of the family recipes, now safeguards both inside a worn cookbook from his grandmother’s Havana finishing school. Each year, he pulls the recipes from La Cocina en el Hogar, makes his shopping list, then sets out to find the butcher in his parents’ neighborhood who can ground the ham  just right.

Me, I inherited my recipes from my grandmother Hazel, who grew up on a dairy farm in rural Virginia. The farm produced enough milk each day to fill a cart that the Neale kids and their horse Fancy delivered to town on their way to school. Her family’s recipes are thick with butter, cream, more butter, and a little corn for good measure. They are also sabrosísimo. It is not Thanksgiving without the Neale family, sage-infused cornbread stuffing.

And therein lies the rub. Our first years together, neither my husband nor I could imagine a Thanksgiving without our own family’s stuffing, nor a Thanksgiving with three stuffings. Our kids didn’t care — they don’t even like stuffing. But that didn’t stop the  tension. There may have been a few barbs of ‘my stuffing is better than yours’ in there, maybe. Maybe that was me. I’m not proud of it, but… entire family legacies were at stake.

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