This Year of COVID, we all have learned to tolerate fundamental change in how we experience holidays. No one is hoping to reprise these drastic accommodations next time around the calendar.

Like many of you, Kathleen and I will celebrate Christmas inside our bubble, sad that we can’t laugh, remember, eat, and drink in the presence of family members and close friends, yet grateful that the pandemic’s end appears to be within sight.

“Facetiming” the kids just won’t be the same as being together, and nothing will taste quite right if certain people are not across the table. Making and eating treats like cretons (the main photo today–by Renée Heppleston) always makes me feel the presence of Hélene Pellerin Bachus, my Québeçoise mother who died in 1979. Slather this poor man’s paté on a piece of toast beside your eggs, and pour yourself a good cup of tea. Or use it as an appetizer on some crusty bread or a cracker.

Hélene, the oldest of nine, with youngest sibling Mariette, in Quebec

Mom gave me both English and French versions of the recipe, which don’t quite match—a detail that will not surprise anyone blessed to be raised in America by a mother whose first language was not English. We can’t get those moms back, but we know how their food is supposed to taste. That becomes our measure for judging the success of attempts at recipes given to us by nos aieux. The taste that takes us back to those people who loved us so much.

Hélene picking berries in Quebec/Ned at her 1965 Christmas dinner table in Philadelphia

Almost everyone now starts with ground pork rather than cooking a chunk of it then putting it through a meat grinder. Recipes vary from town to town and from family to family, with some folks including breadcrumbs or oats, milk, and various spices. Tons of recipes on the internet. Here’s a pretty straightforward one.

Certain tastes plunge us into deep memory and defining moments in our lives. This year, if you can’t be with the ones you love… yes, love the ones you’re with, as Crosby, Stills and Nash would encourage us to do, but also try to re-create some of those moments that shaped you into the person you are. For many of us, eating food that came from family love provided turning points—made us want to connect, to remember, to share.

Happy Christmas to those who celebrate! And whether or not you partake of Christmas, consider the following recipe (really, more a very rough set of directions to cooks of good faith) my end of year gift to you. Try it if you really want to go old school; otherwise, make it easier by starting with ground pork. Either way, Mom would love to think that strangers are enjoying the food she grew up loving, and loving to share.

Use lean pork, salt and pepper, onions or shallots. Cook in just a little water. When done, run it through a meat grinder, then return the meat to the pan with the reserved juices, and simmer for another 10 or maybe as much as 20 minutes. When you’ve cooled the cretons, put them in a little crock or in mason jars and refrigerate/freeze.

Note the copious amount of wiggle room in that “recipe.” Mom trusts you.  

Enjoy the rest of this year with the food that sustains you and keeps your people as close to you as possible.   

Back with you in January.

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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.

2 thoughts on “TURNING POINTS—The Year of Absence and Presence

  1. So very cool, my experience as a Bachus was short tempered southerners who were mad at the world, what a delightful eye opener, I am blessed to recognize a different perspective of life. I am honored to be a small part of your family

  2. So moved by your very kind thoughts, Wayne. Didn’t spend much time in OK, though I was blessed to be connected with people like Aunt Wanda and her Joe and Joy, and my brother Mike, of course. Remember long-distance calls to Bertha and Wanda when I was a child–a big deal for my mother and me. Four years ago, Kathleen and I visited Wetumka and OKC and got to see those three and Joe’s wife Paula and daughter, the amazing Lisa–it was Kathleen’s first trip, and my first since my father’s funeral in 1970. I hope you, your sister, and I can cross trails some day, cousin. Stay safe and well. And don’t let those “short tempered southerners” get you down.

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