Snowman’s school is having a multi-cultural Thanksgiving potluck at school tomorrow, and each student was asked to bring a dish their family eats at the holiday.
His contribution will be something we don’t know how to spell, for which we have no recipe, but which is the defining "old-fashioned favorite" holiday dish in his dad’s family.
In my mind it has always been spelled "rutmousse," but it turns out there is no such word. It is a fabulous confluence of mashed rutabaga and potatoes, with so much butter and half-and-half added it could bring on a heart attack at ten paces.
I decided to go hunting for its origin and finally found something.
My late mother-in-law was the daughter of Swedish immigrants. Her older sister picked out her name, Virginia, because it sounded American. Their parents pronounced it "Veer-yin-yuh!" She was determinedly American, rejecting all things Swedish. But when she grew up, she began to see the charm of her heritage. The lovely painted horses were an important decoration in her home, paper Swedish flags adorned the Christmas tree, and with her husband she adapted some of the recipes of childhood.
My former father-in-law loves to cook. When they lived in the New York suburbs, he took cooking classes with James Beard. For many years they owned a gourmet shop in New Jersey, and he would return from his job at IBM to teach classes of his own in the evening.
Together they created the dish I first ate early on in my relationship with their son, The Father of My Children. It involved the peeling of frighteningly large and alarmingly waxed rutabagas. There were times early in our marriage that I looked for other ways to dress up holiday mashed potatoes, but the rutmousse always returned.
Now it is an expectation. It’s not Thanksgiving without rutmousse.
Which is really rotmos.
Which, omigosh, is something you can buy in a box. Appalling!
When I read the recipe to my sister-in-law, she first asked, "No cream?" and then exclaimed, "They Frenchified it!!" We laughed and laughed. They had taken the humble pork knuckle with mashed swedes and potatoes and added the elements that, to them, connoted sophistication.
Tonight the kitchen is full of the tart fragrance of very fresh rutabagas from the fancy healthy grocery store and the cheerful sound of potatoes at a rolling boil. A carton of half-and-half and a stick of butter await their sacrificial duty. This dish, however you spell it, speaks to us of comfort and home and
the way things have always been, even if they never really were that
way at all.