Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, homemade rolls, pumpkin pie.
Sure, those are all important elements of most people’s Thanksgiving feasts, but when I go home to Orono for the holiday, my family augments these delicacies with something a little different. We call it ‘squirnip.’
This amalgamation of boiled squash and turnip was first mashed and eaten some 30 years ago, the result of a happy accident in the kitchen. Or maybe you could say it happened because of the good old American melting pot.
My maternal grandmother, Julia Diaz, used to come to Maine from Queens, New York, to spend holidays with us. One Thanksgiving, the diminutive Dominican was bustling in the kitchen, as usual, when she decided to save time by combining the two pots of similarly-colored vegetable chunks that were simmering on the stove.
Grandma Julie mashed the chunks with salt, butter and cream, happily unaware that she was committing a cooking faux pas in the old kitchen at the home of her Yankee son-in-law’s parents. When others realized what she had done, initial mild consternation was trumped by good humor. The native New Englanders tasted it and pronounced it not bad at all and then figured out a good moniker for this new creation. Squirnip won, probably because tuash just didn’t have the same ring.
I, who as a child avoided mashed turnip like the plague, dared to try a bite because everyone was smiling so much. Better than turnip — but a little less sweet than mashed squash, I decided.
Although my grandparents are no longer with us for this holiday that celebrates family, tradition, gratitude and food, we often still put a dish of golden squirnip on the sideboard. You can put a dollop on your plate before listening to the youngest child present recite the Thanksgiving prayer my other grandmother, Augusta Tolman Curtis, wrote many decades ago.
“God of the Pilgrims, Father to all,
Who dare to answer Freedom’s call,
Help us to remember this Thanksgiving,
Their priceless gifts to us, the living.
The Heritage of free, unfettered mind,
Of patience, strength, and courage to be kind.
Each in his own way a Pilgrim be
Not in pride, but in humility.
May we carry in our hearts today,
The faith that led them on their way.
The faith to dare uncharted seas,
Of life’s responsibilities.”
1 butternut squash
Butter, to taste
Salt, to taste
Cream, to taste
Peel the skin off a butternut squash and a turnip, and cut them into 1-inch chunks. With squash in one pot and turnip in another (turnip may take longer to cook), cover the chunks with water and boil until tender. Drain and mash, adding butter, salt and cream to taste.