COVID sparks new Thanksgiving traditions in Wilton
WILTON — Things are going to be different this year around the Thanksgiving table. Holiday gatherings are expected to be much smaller due to families sheltering in place in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
To drive that point home, Gov. Ned Lamont has issued a rule imposing a 10-person limit for residential gatherings, and holiday travel is being thwarted due to inter-state quarantine restrictions.
But those restrictions are not going to stop two Wilton women from making Thanksgiving special by celebrating old traditions and embracing new ones.
Former state Sen. Toni Boucher and Italian cookbook author Sally Maraventano Kirmser are planning to keep their Turkey Day dinner party small but are still thinking big.
For Boucher, the COVID travel ban put a crimp on her annual Thanksgiving tradition to travel with her family on a trip to somewhere like Washington D.C.
“This year, we’re all homebound,” Boucher said.
She is planning a small Thanksgiving dinner, with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. She may have one or two guests as well, but is limiting her guest list to eight. She has also put up outdoor Christmas lighting, well in advance of the holiday season, as part of the Wilton Bright Lights initiative to make the town more festive.
Boucher’s Thanksgiving menu includes favorites from her Italian heritage. “My son will make pumpkin soup, and we’ll have a pasta dish, like lasagna,” she said.
She also plans to put out a large bowl of fruits and nuts, including exotic fruits like persimmons, pomegranates, star fruit, and cactus fruit. The nuts will be still in their shells, which she said her grandchildren will enjoy cracking.
For dessert, Boucher is serving traditional pumpkin and apple pies, along with Italian pastries like cannoli.
While Boucher initially lamented having to stay in Wilton for Thanksgiving this year, an opportunity to help others came along that greatly lifted her spirits.
Harry Bell, president of the Color A Positive Thought Foundation, told Boucher he had received a donation of 500 frozen turkeys to distribute to needy families in Bridgeport, and asked if there was anything she could do to help.
Boucher said she quickly lit up, “What’s a turkey without the fixings?”
She came up with the idea of putting together paper bags to go with each turkey, filled with five items to make Thanksgiving side dishes — a large bag of stuffing mix, one can of sweet potatoes or yams, one can of Libby’s pumpkin pie filling (or canned pumpkin), one can of cranberry sauce, and one bag of mini-marshmallows.
She knew she couldn’t put 500 bags together by herself so she has been recruiting volunteers in Wilton and surrounding towns to donate paper bags filled with those five items.
“I know in my heart that there are so many good-hearted and generous people in our communities that we surely could come up with a plan to make holiday meals complete for these families,” she said.
This year’s “fixings in a bag” project has given Boucher something meaningful to do, which she said is making this Thanksgiving special for her.
But to get enough “fixings” to go with 500 turkeys, Boucher is still actively seeking donations of paper bags filled with the five Thanksgiving side dish items.
People wishing to make donations are asked to drop off their filled paper bags, no later than Saturday, Nov. 21, at her home at 5 Wicks End Lane in Wilton. “If people want, they can put their name and town on the bags. If each volunteer could contribute one to five bags, we should reach our goal,” Boucher said.
For more information about the “fixings in a bag” project, call 203-858-9950.
Stay at home
Sally Maraventano Kirmser is going to stay at home in Wilton this year for Thanksgiving, which is appropriate since she is the president of Stay At Home in Wilton, an organization that helps senior citizens stay in their homes as they age.
Kirmser has lived in Wilton since 1978 with her husband, cardiologist Dr. Ralph Kirmser. She runs the Italian cooking school Cucina Casalinga, which she started in 1981.
Under her maiden name, Sally Maraventano, Kirmser wrote the cookbook “Festa del Giardino,” which means “feast from the garden.” The book is a collection of vegetable recipes and a reflection of family memories.
This has been a tough year for Kirmser who had to pause her cooking classes and postpone a trip to Italy.
But she is still reaching out to cooking enthusiasts on her website, cucinacasalinga.com, where she has a Kid’s Cook Italian Page and an Adult Cooking page.
There, she offers up recipes for Pizza and Focaccia, Grandpa Tony’s Tomato Sauce, Fettuccine with Prosciutto and Peas, and desserts such as Torta Cioccolata and Lemon Cream Tiramisu with Raspberry Topping.
Thanksgiving won’t be the same for Kirmser, because out-of-state family members won’t be able to join in due to COVID restrictions. “Thanksgiving is going to be more low key this year,” she said.
Instead, the Kirmsers will have a small gathering to honor the birthday of their granddaughter Pia who is turning 16 on Thanksgiving day.
Like Boucher, Kirmser’s holiday dinner will be a mix of dishes that reflect her Italian heritage, along with traditional American ones.
“I have a folder of Thanksgiving recipes. With the turkey, I’ll make stuffing with sausage and chestnuts. I’ll also make Parmesan Mashed Potato Pie, Fresh Cranberry Conserve, and Pumpkin Bread, a recipe I got from my aunt Landi. We’ll have a good time,” she said.