Valley residents put new twist on tradition this Thanksgiving 

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  • Amherst Survival Center Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra, right, and her mother, Amy Ben-Ezra, compare cans of pumpkin filling at the start of a family evening of baking pies for the center’s Thanksgiving dinners on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Farnsworth Lobenstine and his daughter, Amherst Survival Center Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra, peel and cut apples for apple and apple-cranberry pies during a family night of baking for the center’s Thanksgiving dinners on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Farnsworth Lobenstine sets his peeled apples aside for cutting during a family night of baking pies for the Amherst Survival Center’s Thanksgiving dinners on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Survival Center Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra, left, and “cousin-in-law” Allison Butler prepare pumpkin pies for baking in the center’s kitchen on Tuesday evening. This year, Ben-Ezra’s family converted their tradition of getting together to make pies for their Thanksgiving dinner for 40 or so into making a multitude of pies for the dinners that the Survival Center distributes. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Farnsworth Lobenstine peels apples for apple and apple-cranberry pies during a family night of baking for the Amherst Survival Center’s Thanksgiving dinners on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Allison Butler adds filling to a batch of pumpkin pies she and other family members made at the Amherst Survival Center on Tuesday night, Nov. 24, 2020. Slices from the pies are included in the Thanksgiving dinners that the center distributes. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Lobenstine and Keleigh Pereira set a tray of pumpkin pies into the oven at the Amherst Survival Center on Tuesday evening, Nov. 24, 2020. Slices of the pie are included in the Thanksgiving dinners that the center distributes on the day before Thanksgiving. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Survival Center Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra, center, joined by her partner, Keleigh Pereira, left, and “cousin-in-law” Allison Butler, right, talks on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, about her family’s tradition of making a multitude of pies for their Thanksgiving Day get-together. This year, instead, the family met at the Survival Center to bake pies for the Thanksgiving dinners that the center distributes on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 11/25/2020 7:59:45 PM

NORTHAMPTON — During a typical year, painter and printmaker Nanette “Nanny” Vonnegut, who lives in Northampton, said she would have a traditional Thanksgiving meal with members of her family. But this year, she’s marking the holiday differently — and the meal itself is hardly traditional.

“I am having a hot dog roast over my new fire pit in my front yard with 2 of my 3 kids plus a partner,” Vonnegut wrote in an email. “So only 4 of us, (and) we will be careful with social distancing. There will be no Thanksgiving foods, except for pie and whipped cream.”

Despite the absence of the usual Thanksgiving fare — save for pie and whipped cream — and a chillier dining experience, Vonnegut and her family are looking forward to the occasion.

“The fire pit puts out a lot of heat — we are actually really excited about this!” she said. “No one can go into my house, my kids haven’t been in my house since the pandemic, (though) they all live in the area.”

Vonnegut is one of many to make changes to her Thanksgiving plans this year as COVID-19 cases surge around the state and around the country, which has prompted public health officials to caution against travel and gathering with members of other households — two staples of the typical holiday season.

Some couples will be celebrating Thanksgiving with just each other this year, like photographer and journalist Ben Brody, who lives in Southampton with his wife, Becca Brody, a fiber artist and librarian. But those who canceled in-person gatherings are still finding ways to practice modified traditions.

For the Brodys, that means delivering their popular macaroni and cheese to family and friends with whom they would normally spend Thanksgiving.

Easthampton resident Laura Johnson would normally gather with family members from across five households. But due to the pandemic, the in-person meal is “totally canceled,” she said. Johnson, who will spend the day with just her husband, does not see the cancellation as a significant sacrifice.

“I have had 61 Thanksgivings, so I can live without it for a year,” she said.

Though she won’t see other family members in person, the households will participate in an afternoon Zoom meeting to facilitate a unique tradition: Every year, the family reads from a historical letter belonging to a former resident of Johnson’s father’s house. The letter chronicles the account of a young man in the late 1700s traveling from Yale to his grandmother’s house on horseback for a Thanksgiving gathering.

Easthampton City Councilor Owen Zaret, meanwhile, will feature local dishes in his Thanksgiving celebration with his wife, Abbie Goldberg, and daughter, Alex Zaret. The Zaret family spread will consist of a turducken from Corsello Butcheria, sides from Coco & The Cellar Bar and pies from Daily Operation, which Zaret will use in the construction of a piecaken. A turducken is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, while a piecaken is a dish combining pies and cake.

A pie-making tradition

For more than 20 years, the younger generations of the Ben-Ezra and Lobenstine families have gathered for an extended weekend in Amherst to make pies together.

In the past, these siblings and cousins, whose ages span nearly 30 years, have spent Thanksgiving Day creating the pies to be served to their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles at the big meal on Friday.

“Kids would make the pies the day before, and the pies would then show up the next day,” said Amy Ben-Ezra, who usually served as the holiday host at her South Amherst home.

“Our standard ratio has been one pie for every two people,” said Lev Ben-Ezra, who began participating in the tradition as a child and continued as she and others became adults and brought in their partners and spouses.

With the pandemic altering plans this year, several members instead came together at the Amherst Survival Center Tuesday night, where Lev Ben-Ezra, as the site’s executive director, coordinated making and baking pies, including the 25 that were served at the site’s Thanksgiving to Go program Wednesday afternoon. They wore masks and sanitized surfaces this year.

“It’s really nice to all be able to be together,” said Amy Ben-Ezra, Lev’s mother. “This is part of the fabric of our family.”

For Amy, the actual Thanksgiving celebrations will be muted this year. She expects to visit family in Greenfield for dinner, keeping socially distanced and wearing a mask except when eating and drinking. She and her husband also intend to sit at one end of the dining room table, anticipating that windows will be open and fans will be used to keep fresh air in the home.

Andy Lobenstine, who with his partner, Allison Butler, prepared some of the pies Tuesday evening, said he will miss the big family Thanksgiving gathering but still hopes to have a few relatives drop by and spend time together outside.

“We’ll have some locals over and a fire in the backyard to stay safe,” Lobenstine said.

Staff writer Bera Dunau also contributed to this report.




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