THROUGH THE WOODS: Being truly thankful

THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING is full of challenges and decisions. We often found it more stressful than Christmas purchases and planning. At least way back then we actually got to enjoy our turkey centered holiday before the religious ones began. Nowadays you would think Thanksgiving hardly existed.

Back in the 1950s we literally went over the “brook” and through the woods to grandmother’s house one mile up the road from our farm. My aunt, grandmother, and mother divvied up the food so all brought something, usually their particular specialty. I don’t remember any squabbles over the food and we ate well.

Today we have so many more choices. Should we get a free range organic turkey at $10/lb. or the on-sale store turkey? Would the latter endanger the children or can we all survive as in the past? Should we use store bought anything or does everything have to be made from scratch? I remember one of my jobs was tearing many slices of bread into pieces so mom could make the stuffing, and it was made with real celery, onion, butter and Bell’s seasoning. You could taste all that nice sage. Then it actually went inside that germ laden turkey cavity and cooked in there for hours and not checked with a thermometer. To me, that stuffing was the best and no one got sick. Pepperidge Farms dressing baked in a casserole isn’t bad, but it doesn’t taste as good.

A local wild tom turkey. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

No one could beat our Aunt Mary’s desserts, particularly her wonderful cookies. I wish I had a plate of them right now. We usually had jellied cranberry sauce, or if someone made homemade whole berry sauce that was fine too. Now we seem to have both to please everyone.

Gravy is in a category of its own. Should you use corn starch or flour as the thickener, adulterate it to a darker shade with Gravy Master, add the fat or not, dilute it with canned broth or not, thick or thin, or heaven forbid add canned gravy to extend it so there is plenty for all. Then there are the giblets to be added or not. Personally I think they add a lot of flavor to the gravy. However we have had newly added in-laws who totally refused to even try it.

And how many times have there been the frozen, store turkeys that have to be defrosted? Timing is so important and should they be left in the refrigerator for a week, or left out on the counter for the last days? I think I have heard or seen it all. It is amazing how emotionally invested we can get in recreating the remembered Thanksgiving of our mothers. Maybe it is, as in my case, that they are all gone now and I want to taste what was such a treat in honor and a remembrance of them. Some of my former co-workers have shared some horror stories of Uncle Jim and his lethal cocktails.

Ours was a tea totaling Methodist family, rarely drinking, so this was never an issue. I have worked with many people from different countries and backgrounds and we would have sessions of good-natured teasing about what they were going to do with their turkeys. Was Mario going to stuff theirs with spaghetti? Did my mostly German family stuff ours with sauerkraut? Then along came our staff doctor from Sri Lanka. Did he curry his turkey? He got a kick out of the question and really got everyone by saying he didn’t have a turkey for Thanksgiving because his family was vegetarian. The teasing was an interesting way to start conversations since this is an American tradition. How do people coming from another country, for instance Poland, celebrate? Most have joined in with having the turkey, but the side dishes can be variable. How about eating some golumpkis or pierogi with some shots of vodka?

My family has a young man with a bad peanut and nut allergy, which seems to be more common now and unheard of when I was growing up. His solution is to bring his own food and ours is to remove all nuts from the food and house. With this medical exception, I am in favor of selfishly making what you want and “like it or lump it.” I do have to say that whatever choices have been made, I have enjoyed them. After all, it is about the companionship and family. We are gathered together at a plentiful meal, to recognize our bounty, and to express our thanks. Regardless of the choices, may your plans go well, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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