With Thanksgiving fast upon us, many hosts and hostesses are making last-minute plans for their holiday dinners. Cooks are poring over new recipes for roasted Brussels sprouts, gluten-free gravy and moist turkey. And while dessert figures prominently in most menus, coffee is frequently an afterthought.
I enjoy a bold cup from Starbucks, but in my opinion the coffee most of us drink at home has declined in flavor. I've got one of those single-cup "brewing systems," and it does a pretty good job. But it doesn't approach the richness and depth of flavor that provided the perfect coda to an outstanding meal, back when my mom gave her Thanksgiving dinner.
She used a silver, plug-in percolator, which was one of those generic, vaguely futuristic appliances, like a Frigidaire. Using one required considerable spatial skills, as there were many pieces that fitted together just so. And the recipe -- the number of tablespoons per cup (plus one for the pot) -- was always discussed by my mother and my aunts. I imagined this sacred information handed down from one generation to the next.
I used to love hearing the sound of the vacuum-sealed coffee can when the attached key opened it. Next came the smell: Dark and savory, it foretold the comfort and satisfaction that awaited, when the meal had finally concluded and coffee was poured (even if it was decaffeinated). And the coffee was really, really hot, another critical characteristic. Chances are it was Chock Full o'Nuts or Maxwell House -- an inexpensive brand brought to life by a loving hostess and her stalwart percolator.
Coffee took a turn for the worse in 1972, when the first Mr. Coffees hit stores. While it had few parts to clean and was much less messy, it made a lesser cup of coffee. For busy housewives entering the job force, its ease of use made a lot of sense, but like so many quick fixes, the quality suffered along the way.
Every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions. They exist to define the familial unit and identify our kin. The sharing of these traditions between generations provides continuity and gives us comfort. In my family of very good cooks, waiting for that great cup of coffee means a terrific Thanksgiving dinner has yet to end. It's always been a thing to be thankful for.