A group of us at work were talking about how our families celebrate Thanksgiving. While the environment I work in is culturally diverse, you can imagine the differing traditions, foods and activities. We talked about what type of foods do you serve, who does the cooking, where does your family congregate, what happens to leftovers, how do you make this, that or whatever? Is there some traditional prayer, words, thank you or commemorations? What I found is that there is a lot of variation on the same turkey theme. For example, my mother never cooked mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. We did always have candied yams as the starch of choice. The only vegetables on the table were green beans cooked until limp and southern greens either collard or mustard or a combination of the two with either a smoked turkey drumstick or ham hock. Sometimes she would add cabbage to the greens. We never had a squash entrée or anything like pumpkin, broccoli, peas or asparagus.
The standard menu was always Turkey with Dressing, Ham, Macaroni and Cheese, Corn Pudding, Southern Greens, Green Beans, Monkey Bread, Corn Bread, Jell-O Mold, Ambrosia (fruit cocktail mixed with marshmallows and whipped cream), Sweet Potato Pie and a late edition for when my daughter stopped eating meat- Baked Salmon. No deviation was allowed from this menu except for the substitution of the Jell-O or Ambrosia with whatever was listed in Family Circle Magazine as the highlighted fruit or jell salad of the season. Protests were loud and clear from all of us if Mama even mentioned a consideration of making something else instead of one of the standards.
We did venture out and either smoked, fried or just baked the turkey. The ham some years was dressed with pineapple slices and a cherry or just a honey glaze. Dressing was always made from left over bread pieces and cornbread my mother stored in the freezer until a holiday. She simply sautéed diced celery, onion and bell pepper in butter. She toasted the bread until dry not burnt, cubed it then added it to the celery mixture. Canned chicken broth was added until the consistency was right. Not a single measurement, just the right amounts by touch, sight and taste and always perfect. She never added apples, nuts, dried fruits, sausage or oysters to her dressing.
Gravy was another matter. For some reason it always tasted good, was smooth and mahogany colored made from plain old bacon grease oil, water, salt and pepper to taste. The flour and bacon grease were combined and constantly stirred until a rich mahogany color and never burnt less you start over again. Water was added when the color was just right. The already boiled turkey giblets were cut up and also added. The only problem we had with the gravy was that Mama made it the day before and never seemed to master adding just the right amount of water to smooth out the refrigerated glob when she heated it up for serving. My sister and I took on doing this.
For some unknown reason dinner was always served at 2pm. As I said, not sure why, but for all holidays, it’s the same. We all sit down at the formal dining room table which is never used except for holidays. All the food is placed in Royal Albert china serving ware and presented in the center. I don’t remember when this china first showed up and I never paid any attention to it until about 5 years ago but for a poor south central L.A. family, that’s pretty high on the hog.
My father use to bless the table and since his passing, my husband now has that honor. We also sometimes have my young nephew offer the blessing in that my family is short of males to pass on this honor. We pass around all the foods and we all stuff ourselves until there is no more room regardless of what diets we may be on. When Mama cooked, she rarely sat at the table as her chosen job was to assure we all had everything we needed from full glasses of Hawaiian Punch to warm bread. When we finish she removes everything from the table and readies it for us to take home leftovers.
The guys retreat to the den to watch some sporting event, while the kids go off to play. The women then sit around the table, drinking wine, catching up on gossip and getting into everybody’s business.
Over the last few years, I have taken over hosting most holiday dinners. The Thanksgiving menu remains unchanged. However, this year, I have pondered preparing the turkey a little differently. In line with food fads across the country, I’m thinking Turducken. I guess I only have a couple of more days to make up my mind. I assure you’ll hear about it here if I do. I did purchase a duck and a chicken in addition to the $5.00 super market special on turkeys with a $25.00 purchase.
From what I have read about Turduckens is they are fairly easy to prepare as long as you have your butcher debone all the meats. Well, this I didn't do, so I am preparing myself to do this Tuesday night (if I follow through on the thought). Keep in mind, I have never deboned even a chicken. This will be special.