Here we are, just a few days before Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season. The River will soon be festooned with lights, downtown buildings will sport lights and decorations and cars will sprout antlers and red noses on their hoods. In my house, there is a slight vibration, a humming sound coming from a kitchen cabinet – and I know what it is. It is the atoms that make up the special, green pottery bowl; they are quivering with anticipation of their annual holiday turn.
You know there has to be a story here and here it is. Years ago, I became the current keeper of a large bowl. It’s an ordinary-looking bowl: made of sturdy pottery, a dark jade green in color and with a wide rim that allows a firm grip. It holds about 2 quarts, I guess, although I’ve never tested capacity. I suspect that it may have been one of a set of green pottery bowls, but I don’t know for sure. Anyway, if it was, it is the sole survivor.
And why is it special, this rather homely green bowl? Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland. Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery. She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough. Then the bowl came down to my mother. In my recollection of home, the same home where my grandmother had lived, there was a large, walk-in pantry that smelled of spices and contained rows of mysterious glass jars and bins for flour and sugar. There on a shelf was everything needed for holiday meal preparation: a big, black roaster oven, ample enough for an enormous turkey, the pot that was big enough for a dozen or more potatoes (not to be mistaken for the sweet potato pot); there was the colander you’d need for the green beans; the pie plates for that special pecan pie that only my mother could make; the cut glass dish for the cranberry sauce – and the green pottery bowl.
Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland. Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery. She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough.
In my experience, the green pottery bowl was only used to make dressing for the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys. (Some call it “stuffing,” but I think that sounds like something you’d put in a mattress.) Three or four days before the start of the serious preparation began, slices of bread would be arranged on baking sheets and left in a sunny window to dry out. Then we’d make corn bread that included a little bacon grease in the mix. And then someone would be assigned to very carefully lift the green pottery bowl from the pantry shelf and wipe it with a dish towel. In goes the cut-up bread, in goes the cubed corn bread, in goes the celery and spices, in goes the stock — and the magic begins.
So now I have made holiday dressing in the green pottery bowl for more than 50 years. It has traveled the world over with my dishes and pots and pans, but is only taken down from its special place for the creation of dressing. I suspect that this bowl carries within its pottery some very special spices, some magical ingredient that three generations of women have ingrained into it. It has a little bit of Ireland, a little bit of Texas farm, a smidge of Bolivia, a taste of Argentina and of Brazil and a cold, cold touch of Quebec stored away in its elemental clay. This is a bowl that knows its place and its role, and always gives its all to every holiday feast. It has not a chip or scratch, it has NEVER experienced a dishwasher and will be passed on to yet another generation in my family. It’s probably not worth the pottery it’s made of, but in my family, it is a treasure.
In these coming days, I will carefully lift the green pottery bowl from its place in the cupboard, wipe it out with a dish towel, think of my mother and grandmother, and start making the world’s best dressing!
I hope you too have a treasure and a tradition to enjoy this holiday season. And here’s to all the cherished green pottery bowls. Best wishes from your friends, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.
– E Doyle