Published in Gettysburg Times 11/29/2013
As I write this, I am dreaming of turkey. As you read it, I’m preparing, weather permitting, to enjoy another one. Or I’m still sleeping off the first one, visions of Thanksgiving Past flowing through my gobbler-doped gray matter.
The past few days, She Who Must Be Loved has crafted offerings to the dessert god. Gleman Cheese Cake – a mixture of cottage cheese, eggs and chopped fruit candies, poured into a pie shell and baked to satisfy the demand of her offspring at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a tradition rooted in her marriage to her high school sweetheart. He’s no longer with us, but the cheese cake, passed down from his parents, is really good.
SWMBL found a pumpkin roll one year when my grandsons were visiting. Positively decadent. Every year, the boys place their order: in return for their distinguished presence, they demand pumpkin rolls. In the nicest possible way, of course.
In my youth, Mother spent the day baking. Even the knotty-pine walls of the dining room echoed aromas of turkey and pies and fresh bread.
The gobbler was huge, though usually there were only Mom, Dad, my brother and two sisters to share it, stuffed on both ends with a bread-based recipe. As a lad, I paid little attention to actual recipes; I think there was chicken broth and onions. No raisins.
The holiday fowl was surrounded on the table by a variety of vegetables, the most important of which, to my palate, was cranberry sauce. Not the kind that comes from cans – though sometimes, when we had city relatives for dinner, the canned kind would be also on the table.
But the good stuff had been slow-cooked on the back burner of the kitchen stove to a juicy thick and savory sweet-and-sour sauce with those delicious red lumps. Turkey was what I ate to justify asking for more cranberry sauce.
Except for the neck. That was mine. It had been cooked in the broiling pan, soaked in the juices beneath the bird. Long, succulent strands of meat, peeled off like string cheese, only much tastier. Then disassemble the bones from one another and suck, quietly because Mom wouldn’t stand for my impolitely noisy slurping of the remaining morsels.
The only other plate to hold my dedicated attention held a dozen or so fresh-from-the-oven, hand-squooshed biscuits, shaped into the pan and baked next to a couple loaves of bread that would later make leftover turkey easier to hold. There is nothing prepared by man or woman to compete with fresh from the oven biscuits and butter. Not margarine. Butter.
Mother said a cook’s greatest compliment was for those at her table to call for seconds. Don’t just say it was good, then eat only a half helping. I did my best to compliment her culinary prowess. Especially when it came to her biscuits.
Dinner eventually was reduced to leftovers, surreptitiously nibbled on each pass through the kitchen. There remained the lasting treat – leftover turkey on the sideboard. Covered, usually, only with tin foil. One could pass by the counter, slyly lift a flap of foil, and strip a piece of gobbler – or better yet, a portion of remaining crisp, seasoning laden skin.
This years dinner will be at daughter’s home. It’s time for new traditions. Time for the young people to create their own stories. I hope we’ve given them sufficient suggestions over the years on which, as with sour dough starter to create the next loaf of bread, they will create their own traditions.
Those of us beyond a certain age learned the Indians – actually, the Americans who were native to this place before it was called America – prepared dinner in 1621 for the white immigrants. President Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, to be celebrated in November. It is difficult to be at war when sharing dinner with your opponent.
So, though Turkey Day officially was yesterday, Happy Thanksgiving to all.