Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanksgiving on Dewey Hill

It was possibly more highly anticipated than Christmas in our house - IF you were only talking about the food. As kids, of course, nothing took the place of Christmas and NOTHING was more important than the sight of the tree on Christmas morning surrounded by glimmering chrome, shiny packages, gift tags with Santa's autograph... 
Thanksgiving meant turkey- Had Mama only served a turkey, Thanksgiving would have been complete, in my humble opinion. Why? Because my Mama searched the whole of the city for the biggest, fattest, and heaviest turkey she could find. It was a pilgrimage to be sure; a foray into Piggly-Wiggly, a trek over
to Red & White, a visit to Doscher's, and straight to turkeys we went. I don't think she ever served a turkey that weighed less than 27 or 28 pounds. It was huge! It was the star of the show and it certainly deserved to be. We didn't fry turkeys back then. We fried chicken and pork chops, fish, fatback, and bacon, and slices of ham too, for breakfast. Sometimes we even fried bologna, but never a turkey.  At the very least the idea of plunging such a magnificent feast into a kettle of boiling oil would have been met with great skepticism, and a raised brow that was an indication of questioning your sanity for suggesting such a thing. No, our turkey came out of the oven. It was sheer torture - not for the turkey, but for us. The turkey was usually a frozen one and for three days it sat in a pan in the refrigerator, thawing. The night before Thanksgiving, Mama took it out, and rinsed it. Shed took the giblets out, and set them aside. She took out sticks of margarine and stuffed one inside the turkey, and another was cut and massaged all over the bird. Salt and pepper were generously applied and then it was covered with aluminum foil and put into the oven on a low temperature. Probably no more than 225 I would guess, and it baked all night long. All night! And if you were unlucky enough to have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, you had to pass through the kitchen, and Tom Turkey sent out a most intriguing reminder than he was in that oven. It was absolute misery to go back to sleep because the smell of buttery roasting turkey woke up the taste buds who screamed down to the stomach that something good was cooking and the stomach sent up a pretty hefty growl that it should just send some on down right now as an appetizer...
At some point Butterball and then other turkey farms began putting the little red pop up thermometers in the turkey breasts, but we never had them.

Mama knew when the turkey was done. I suppose that through the night she must have gotten up and checked it. The morning of Thanksgiving she removed the foil, basted it with some of the butter and drippings and sent it back into the oven to get golden brown.

Not my Mom, but you get the idea...

When the legs began to fall away from the rest of the bird, she declared it ready for browning, and she was always right.

While all of this was going on she was making the giblet gravy, chopping the liver, gizzard, and onions, to boil. Flour, salt, pepper, and a chopped boiled egg was added and that was ready, too.
Mama always made her own dressing. Partridge Farms hadn't conceived the idea of bagging and boxing dried stuffing mix then. For weeks prior we saved stale bread, leftover cornbread, and biscuits in the freezer. This huge bag of stuff was soon mixed with turkey broth from the pan, butter, eggs, onions, sage, onion powder, salt and pepper, and chopped eggs, and sent into the oven to bake and brown - and to drive us crazy with hunger. She'd baked the sweet potato pies (from scratch - honest to goodness homemade pie crusts, and true boiled sweet potatoes) the day before she baked the turkey so that heavenly aroma of nutmeg and spices hovered over the entire house, adding to the longing and anticipation of the feast to come. We, my sister and I, were usually given the task of peeling potatoes for the mashed potatoes. They didn't come out of a box back then.  Green beans were set to cook with a fat piece of fatback, cranberry sauce was slipped out of the can and sliced, corn was cut off of the cob and simmered with a bit of butter, biscuits were made, and finally a fresh coconut cake, graced the kitchen counter. My Daddy loved coconut cake probably better than any other cake, and Mama would buy a big coconut, drive the ice pick through the three holes and drained the milk, then took a hammer to break up the shell. Jo Ann and I had to spend a bit of time carving the meat out of the shell, and Mama grated it.  The cake was made from scratch and baked. Before she lathered it with homemade icing, she poked holes in it and poured the coconut milk all through, and then sprinkled freshly grated coconut all over it.

It was a feast, indeed... There is nothing like it.

And of all things we had to be thankful for, I think Mama and Daddy were most thankful that their five children were gathered around the table, laughing, ladling gravy on dressing, scooping up mashed potatoes, marveling over the wonderful smell of sweet potato pies, yellow cake with chocolate icing, and coconut cake, nibbling this or that, staking claims on turkey drumsticks, breast meat or dark meat, finger-plucking the tasty golden brown skin of that huge bird, all of us swearing that we were starving to death, noisy and hungry, and that there was a son in law and two grand babies there with us, who were equally noisy and hungry (Debbie and Ricky), and all of us were healthy and happy, and home for dinner.