Mother often said if you really want to compliment the cook, clean your plate. Don’t just say it was good, then eat only one helping. I am clear proof that I took my filial duties seriously, and complimented her sincerely at every opportunity. Especially at Thanksgiving.
The gobbler was huge, usually about 20 pounds, though there were only Mom, Dad and my three younger siblings to share it. It was packed on both ends with a stuffing comprising a simple recipe – bread, chicken broth and onions. No raisins. Easily a single-container meal.
The bird 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 to dinner, the canned kind would be also on the table. 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.
I ate turkey mostly to justify asking for more cranberry sauce.
My favorite part of the bird was the neck, which was understood by all to be mine. I would willingly share (though only if pressed) the rest of the giblets, but the neck, cooked in the juices beneath the bird was to my young palete, the completion of the three food groups: cranberry sauce, biscuits and neck.
Its long, succulent strands of meat, peeled off the curved bone like string cheese, only much tastier, tender and tasty from soaking in the juices, sometimes spiked with a touch of sherry, that dripped from the roasting fowl.
The final plate to hold my dedicated attention was the one holding 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.
Dinner eventually was reduced to leftovers, surreptitiously nibbled by almost satiated diners on each pass through the kitchen where sat the penultimate finger food, the remains of the turkey, beckoning from the sideboard. Covered, usually, only with tin foil. One could slyly lift a flap of foil, and strip a piece of gobbler – or better yet, a portion of remaining crisp, seasoning laden skin.
Mom’s cooking still holds a place of honor in my list of parental gifts.
“Here he goes again,” the middle granddaughter mumbled one year as I prepared, by acclamation, to start the round-the-table tally of things for which we were grateful. One or two of the adults may have had a similar sentiment.
I am grateful I do not live in a country where freedom of religion means living in fear that, if I do not choose the correct manner of worship, some guy on a motorcycle will throw acid in my granddaughter’s face. We are a nation of myriad colors and creeds, of which Benjamin Franklin, at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, is said to have declared “A republic, if you can keep it!”
I am grateful for the doctors, nurses, police and firefighters who surround our homes, one hopes only figuratively, so we can enjoy the meal and sleep peacefully once the gobbler is consumed.
And I am deeply appreciative of the young men and women who volunteer to be cops to the world, to put themselves between the acid-throwers and those around my table.
So, though Turkey Day officially was yesterday, Happy Thanksgiving to all.