THROUGH THE WOODS: Giving thanks

Tom Turkey. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IN THIS CRAZY YEAR of the Covid-19 pandemic with separation and restrictions from family and friends it is nice to look back to remembered happy 1950s Thanksgivings. Thanksgiving and Christmas were our two days of the year when we all got together and shared a special meal. Everything was timed around the 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. milking of our cows and related chores. The gigantic pale turkey was put in the roaster pan and stuffed with homemade stuffing. Made of celery and onion sautéed in butter, crumbled, and moistened good white bread (crusts too), Bell’s Poultry Seasoning, some salt and pepper and stuffed into the bird. Nothing tastes better and we didn’t get sick from salmonella or any other disease.

They were local free-range birds, and we didn’t know there was anything else. The big bird had to be started early in the day and cooked for many hours until it was a luscious crispy skinned brown. The internal juices had been absorbed by the stuffing and the rest of the drippings were in the pan for gravy, and we always used the diced giblets. No one complained about this until later years when one new person in the family complained. Too bad, they could pick out the giblet pieces, majority ruled. We had the luxury of both whole cranberry sauce and canned jellied. One of my jobs was sorting the fresh cranberries removing any leaves, stems or bad berries. Everyone had something to do. Brothers, sisters, couples, aunts, grandmothers, and kids contributed in some way. It could be mayhem, but somehow it was all coordinated.

I got the cut glass dishes out and put out green stuffed and black olives, washed celery sticks for the long celery dish, homemade pickles, and dishes of mixed nuts. Sugar bowls and creamers were filled, and we found the extra salt and pepper shakers.

There was a large long table with extra leaves added, but we children had our own smaller table. Good embroidered table clothes were put on tables and younger children put out the silverware. We were dairy farmers and we had lots of real butter, and our own whole milk by the pitcher full. My mother and grandmother were always double checking.

The men came in from the barns, cleaned up and changed clothes, and helped get out the extra chairs. Wood was brought in and the wood stove stoked so the rooms became toasty warm and cozy. My father or uncle got the heavy turkey on a platter and carved, and I got the tail, my favorite part. My mother scooped out the stuffing and placed it on the sides of the platter. There were mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, and another tradition, scalloped oysters. My grandmother rolled out saltine crackers with a rolling pin until they were fine crumbs. The oysters were hand felt and inspected to remove any shell fragments or sand. If you were lucky there might be a tiny pearl, which was exciting. Back of our house were many oyster shells. My mother said when she was young, they would get barrels of fresh oysters brought up from New York City by train. Some of the shells were broken up into small pieces and fed to the chickens to provide calcium and minerals for the eggshells to be properly formed. It made the shells stronger. My grandmother had layered cracker crumbs, chunks of butter, and oysters, and then poured in an egg and milk mixture on top. She poked holes down through it and kept adding the liquid until all was absorbed. Then it was baked to be served with the rest of the food. Sometimes we also had our own creamed onions made with evaporated milk and butter with a little black pepper.

My aunt made pies: pumpkin, mince for my father and apple for everyone. Her apple pie was wonderful and was served warm. We also had warm apple sauce that she made from their own apples. It was a pretty pink from being cooked with the skins and strained. Dishes sat steaming on the tables and the delicious aromas wafted by. We bowed our heads, said grace, and remembered how truly fortunate we were. Food was passed and enjoyed until all were ready for a cup of after dinner coffee and we began the cleanup. No dishwashers back then, we had a family assembly line until all was clean, dried, and back in the cupboards. It was a wonderful day of the family of two farms together at my grandparent’s house. We were taught the traditions that will be carried on again with all our new children. We may enjoy this day in different ways this year, but we all have many good things in our lives. Stay well and have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

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