Writing this on the day after the famous U.S. Day of Gluttony, Thanksgiving, I’m going to try to dig a little deeper into the meaning of Thanksgiving. To me, family rituals and traditions on major holidays aren’t the same as they used to be. I’m no longer a child. I’m no longer a young parent. My children have independent lives of their own, something I tried to encourage while they were growing up.

Many of my family are gone, leaving a mix of memories that still guide and sustain me, that still make me smile, that still make me feel grateful, thankful. But I don’t want to live my life focused on the rearview mirror.

One exception to this is a special soul food of my youth, Tennessee pulled pork. More specifically, Montgomery County, Tennessee, pulled pork. It’s the kind I grew up enjoying on a fresh hamburger bun with slaw and potato chips. It has a unique taste that’s hard to find in pulled pork from other parts of the South. Hickory wood, a vinegar-based barbecue sauce with cayenne pepper, and other often-secret ingredients make it soul food for me.

My daughter Joy recently attended a wedding in Tennessee. She returned to Austin with several frozen two-pound packages of pulled pork from Montgomery County. First, she and her husband Luke invited us over for a pulled pork lunch because, as Joy put it, “I knew you would appreciate it.” She was exactly right.

We contributed a special slaw that’s popular in Memphis, two hundred miles from Montgomery County, and some fresh kettle-cooked potato chips from Cape Cod. The meal was heavenly, and I’m thankful for the memory of it.

As we left their house sometime later, Joy gave us a frozen two-pound package of this soulful pulled pork and a little bottle of the remarkable barbecue sauce from my home county to go with it.

We waited a few weeks for the fever pitch to build up again. Then we invited Luke and Joy to come to our house for another pulled pork lunch, just like the one we had earlier at their house, except that we served a Mrs. Smith’s blackberry cobbler as dessert. Again, this pulled pork meal was heavenly. I just salivated as I wrote the previous sentence.

We refrigerated the remaining barbecue and Ellen and I finished it for lunch on Wednesday of this week, the day before Thanksgiving. We had a red cabbage, so we used it in a recipe for slaw given to us by a next-door neighbor.

Pulled pork sandwich with slaw and chips. Genuine Montgomery County pulled pork.

Pulled pork sandwich with slaw and chips. Genuine Montgomery County pulled pork.

For those who are bothered by my referring to “slaw” instead of “coleslaw,” I would only say it was “slaw” when I grew up. It still is when I eat Montgomery County pulled pork.

The pulled pork on Wednesday was tastier and more special to me than the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, cornbread stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie we had in a very popular Austin restaurant yesterday. The comparison wasn’t even close.

I love to look in the rearview mirror at the pulled pork upbringing I had. My parents and older brother loved it as much as I did. Those were special family times. Having pulled pork recently, three times, was an inestimable gift from Joy. I’m grateful for my past and my present. I’m so fortunate.

Montgomery County pulled pork stirs my soul. Sharing it with family stirs my soul. Turkey, hot or cold, just doesn’t compare.

Ellen’s soul food is pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs, Italian sausages, and Sicilian cannoli. It stirs my soul, too, because her Sicilian relatives named me Lorenzo when they found Earl too hard to pronounce.

I suspect nearly everyone has a special soul food. And I suspect the warm feelings it engenders is connected to family or friends. The holiday season we’re entering is a special time. A time for gratitude, for memories, for thanksgiving.

Related posts:

Shaking Up Traditions

Chef’s Hat as Credential

Birth of a Memoir

Restaurant Blind Spot