By: Gayle Lynds
Or maybe you dine on vegan burgers, ravioli, or lobster? In our family, my grandmother braised, buttered, and baked a turkey every year. Then my mom did, too.
After wavering (I was young and newly married), I asked my mother for the recipe, which she wrote by hand, titling it “How To Cook a Dead Bird.” I loved her sense of goofy humor, embarrassing though it was at times.
This week I will bake a turkey again with all the fixin’s. There is something wondrous about how the aromas of the roasting turkey, the dressing, the pies, bring a sense of continuity to our home. I can hear the cheery voices from my childhood, see my grandmother stirring gravy, watch my mother grind cranberries, and know that as I cook and make new memories for myself and John, and for our children and grandchildren, that they are storing new ones for the future, too.
What about you, my Rogue family? What will you and yours be eating Thanksgiving Day?
My family goes the traditional route on the Big Day — roast turkey, cranberries, and all the carbs that go with them. Sadly, I am merely a passive passenger on the Turkey Express. The kitchen is not my room.
My Mom’s the chef in the family while I am the type of person for whom the Butterball Hotline was likely created; the one who might forget to defrost the bird on the day or leave that little giblet packet in the bird’s crevice, but not discover the mistake until Mr. Tom’s been in the oven for over an hour. The one, if not for Mom, who’d end up eating Chinese take-out at four while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time.
I wash the dishes each year, that’s my contribution to the festivities. Those who can pull off all the bells and whistles for a table of twenty have my complete admiration. For the rest of us? When you load the dishwasher, make sure you place the glasses carefully, then….
In some ways, I governed my whole life to be close to my family at the holidays and other times; to give my children a tradition of joy that is a constant in their lives. But this Thanksgiving will have a heavy tinge of sorrow — after more than half a century of laughter and abundance and gratitude for all that we have — because it is the first for which my beloved father, Alan, won’t be there. He died suddenly and unexpectedly just a few months ago.
What is bringing the now, newly 10-of-us-instead-of-11 back around the table at my childhood home, leading my mother to cook the turkey to a perfect mahogany, my daughter and me to bake pies and cakes, my son to sample just a touch of wine, my husband to assist in the kitchen, my sister to decorate and her new husband to expertly keep their dog out from underfoot, my brother to fly 3,000 miles with his husband and their daughter?
Well, because we love it, we love each other, and it’s what we do — we still have so much to be thankful for.
But I have another secret reason glowing like a jewel in my heart. The last Thanksgiving before he died, my father took both my hands in his soft, cushy grip and spoke for the first time ever about life after he was gone. He was quite hale and well — no one had any idea how little time he had left — yet he referred just this once to a life that would continue without him.
“I want this — ” he said, letting go of me to wave an expansive arm around the table, the house filled with love, ” — to go on.”
“It will, Dad,” I promised him.
And as we all make our plans to gather this year, I am still telling my father. It will.
I’m not much of a cook, but if there’s one meal I have down to a science, it’s Thanksgiving dinner. When my mother was getting older, my two sisters and I divvied up the three major holidays and I got Thanksgiving, seating 20-24 people in my half-basement.
I’m extremely traditional: stuffed roast turkey (seal up in foil, ½ hour per pound at 350, very little sage in the stuffing), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and one can of cranberry sauce that I serve only for guests because I’ve never touched it. Assigned seating with cute homemade placecards (a must for large gatherings; trust me on this) and some kind of toy at the plate for very small children.
Even though I’m 1,400 miles from family now, I’m still putting on dinner for between 8-14 adopted ‘retiree homies.’
This year is the first year in a long time I’m not on call for the holiday, very excited…one year I was called out an hour before dinner for a three-car accident with a fatality…in two different years I was up all night with cars driving into canals, getting home just in time to put the turkey in the oven. Let’s hope this year is safe for everyone!
Somehow I couldn’t find a photo of my table, but this attached recipe is one I cut out of the paper probably 30 years ago and still swear by!
Turkey!! Turkey and mashed potatoes with my in-laws. I usually make the gravy. I also make stuffing with the meat and juices of two Cornish hens that cook in the crockpot the night before—practically a meal in itself! Can’t get enough of that stuffing!
My mother wasn’t much of a cook. Not that she couldn’t cook, she just didn’t. My father cooked. The two exceptions were Thanksgiving and Christmas. I do Thanksgiving in her honor.
Mama loved all the fixin’s — yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes with lots of butter and gravy, dinner rolls and cranberry jelly. In the morning, we would stuff the turkey. Mom, Grandma, and me. My grandfather had died when my mom was 10, so every year, a few days before Thanksgiving, my grandma would arrive on the train from Chicago, and stay until just after New Year’s.
Making the dressing was a joint project. It was a combinations of cornbread crumbles and herb-seasoned stuffing mix, eggs, milk, celery, onion, celery salt, sage, basil, and chopped apples. We knew what to add by taste and feel.
Now tasting is taboo, because we’ve learned that raw eggs are bad for you. For the same reason, we can no longer lick the batter off the mixer blades when baking cakes anymore. But, for years I was the official taste tester, and I prided myself on a job well done. That, and the dressing had to squish just right between your fingers, ensuring it would come out of the bird still moist.
It is a recipe committed to memory — one I continue to make every year, and that I’ve taught my children to make. I can’t tell you how many cups of this or tablespoons of that go into the bowl. It’s filled by whim, laced with laughter and stories shared, and love. Thanksgiving is all about the joy of spending a day with people you love.
My mother and grandmother’s laughter has long been silenced, replaced by the laughter of my children and now grandchildren. The stories have been told, retold, and embellished. Etched into memory and passed down, padded by new stories. The fixin’s have been altered at times, but not the stuffing. Never the stuffing!
Canadians are the early bird when it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving! Unlike the US, we hold ours in mid-October. The leaves are turning, the temperatures are dipping, and we gather with family and friends to give thanks for our health, happiness, and special relationships.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because there’s no panic to find the perfect gift. Instead, the gift is being together. We all contribute a dish to a sumptuous meal and then relax and enjoy a good catch-up. I’ve had turkey, ham, duck, and even pizza for Thanksgiving, and every menu has been the perfect complement to the mood that year. Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!
KARNA SMALL BODMAN
I have cooked many a turkey dinner over the years, but this time, alas, there will only be three of us here for Thanksgiving so we have a reservation for the big holiday buffet at our club that night.
However, my fondest memories are of Thanksgiving Dinners that always took place at my Swedish grandmother’s home where grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, and children all gathered to ooh and aah over her huge roast turkey, home-made dressing, and lingonberries (a Swedish favorite — replacing cranberries).
My mother used to collect Norman Rockwell drawings that appeared on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post. She included this one which actually appeared not on the cover but inside the magazine. This photo certainly captures the scene and spirit of those long-ago wonderful family dinners where we all gave thanks for our many blessings!
What about you, dear Rogue Readers … what will you be dining on this year? All the Rogues wish you and yours a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!