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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Memories of turkey days past

Puck Thanksgiving 1905
Image from the Library of Congress
It has been many years since I spent a Thanksgiving at a family member’s house.  Usually it is our small family of four.  Now we get together with other friends, and their children, for the day instead of making a cross country trek.  This is what happens when family spreads out across the country and you have to pick and choose which holidays you will be sharing with them.  When it comes to holidays I am brought back, time and again, to all the different types of food we would eat.

This week I baked my dad’s pumpkin pies.  Not sure if he got the recipe from someone else, but for as long as I can remember he has baked them for fall holiday gatherings.  They are a staple now in my house as my boys and husband would pout if I didn’t make them.   I also make homemade vanilla flavored whip cream to put on them.  Yes, it is decadent, but it took me YEARS to figure out how to make whip cream that tasted good and was stiff enough, so now it has to be done.

Then there is my Grandmother Arvin’s cranberry relish.  I talked about it before here.  It has been at the holiday table most years.  My grandmother would make it by hand, chopping the fruit into thin slivers, pureeing the half frozen cranberries in the blender, and adding just the right amount to sugar.  Now, if they had only told me that you were to make it the night before to sweeten my husband would not have had to eat so many tart servings.  He would have preferred the canned jelly version of cranberry sauce, which is okay, but never as good as fresh relish.

On my husband’s side I now fix his Nanny’s candied yams every holiday for him.  It took me 3 years to figure out all the nuances to correctly making them (I kept melting the marshmallows) but now they are a super yummy addition to the table.  Of course, anything that is covered in butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows can’t be bad!  You just don’t think about the calories while you are eating them.
However, you can’t have a holiday meal without out the staples: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and on occasion a ham.  Eating at grandma’s house always meant the 3am start to cooking the bird.  It amazed me that she would spend hours making sure that the turkey was perfect.  It was never overdone, always juicy, and browned perfectly.  It was much better than what my meat course morphed into when not sitting at grandma’s table.
Puck Thanksgiving 1903
Image from the Library of Congress
When we left Indiana and moved to the east coast it was just the three of us: me, mom, and dad.  Our finances were not that good and we had turkey loaf on more than one occasion.  Now, if you have never had turkey loaf let me educate you on this.  It is turkey bits, light and dark meat, made into a loaf that is frozen waiting to be baked in your oven.  You then slice off hunks onto your waiting plate and voila turkey dinner!  Yeah, tastes good when you don’t know any better.

As soon as I could I started cooking real turkeys.  I have a very patient and loving husband, particularly the year I caramelized the turkey in wine.  It sounded like a good idea when I watched it on the Food Network you know.  Thankfully I never undercooked the turkey, and I knew enough to make sure the giblet bags were all taken out.  An over cooked turkey just calls for extra brown gravy to make it edible and there were several years when I had to make extra gravy. 

Most importantly, beyond the food, was the company.  Playing in the yard with my cousins, watching the adults get riled up over a game of eucher, listening to the stories from years past, and letting the tryptophan myth take you into a midafternoon nap.  I just hope my kids will have just as many fond memories as I do when they are my age.


  1. My husband's favorite is mince pie. He bought a case of Nonesuch Mincemeat through the mail and regularly makes pies for himself and our son, using of course Pillsbury pie crusts from the dairy section. No, nothing is from scratch! But they bond over mince pie. It smells wonderful, but to me it's like vanilla flavoring--eating it isn't quite so good. I love food traditions!

  2. I have made mince meat pies, they are wonderful!