Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day are my favorite holidays...call me quirky, but that is the way it is...they both represent love to me.
My family just loves food. We love to talk about it, prepare it, savor it, watch movies about it and read books and talk about it some more, and we cultivated this lifestyle at the hands of the best. My paternal grandparents lived next door to us in a lovely farmhouse and my grandmother was a wonderful cook. It was a privilege to have Sunday dinner with Nana and Di-Di, and they also took us out to restaurants and introduced us to fine dining. My grandfather had an office in Boston and once in while he would take one of us with him to work. The day usually involved going to a nice place for lunch and I can remember dressing up and being expected to use my very best manners. There was even a time that he took me to the Ritz Carlton for tea but first he made me go to the front desk myself and request a room (I was 8 years old)!!! Just for practice!
Anyway, when it came time for Thanksgiving, my grandmother would plan for weeks and weeks. The menu would be all worked out, shopping and much cooking and baking done in advance. It was a grand feast around her big dining table. Thanksgiving morning many of us piled in the car with my father or grandfather to go to the Cider Mill to get the cider to accompany dinner. I can remember being so eager for the dinner to be served...there was the requisite turkey(often locally grown), stuffed with an oyster dressing, gravy, mashed potato, sweet potatoes, blue hubbard squash, green peas, boiled onions with cream sauce, homemade cranberry sauce (always served in a lovely blue Depression glass dish), and then there were the homemade breads such as cranberry/orange, date and nut, and dinner rolls, and a huge relish tray with cream cheese stuffed celery, olives, and pickles of all types.The relish tray piece de resistance, was my mothers treasured sweet pickled watermelon rind.
There was always mincemeat pie for dessert, served lovingly to my grandfather with a piece of sharp cheddar cheese, apple pie, and squash pie, too. We could all hardly move after all that food! The leftovers were such a treat, too.
When the time came that Nana could no longer manage all the work, my mother took over and began to produce her own lavish version of the same meal at our house. It was always such a nice day and the door was open to any and all, so many of our friends would stop by and share with us. No one left empty handed and my mother always had a loaf of homemade bread to hand out to anyone who came to the door. I do not have any idea how she did it, with 7 children and helping my father on the farm as well as caring for my grandparents as they aged. She managed to keep up these wonderful family gatherings well into her 70's.
Now all the siblings are scattered and my youngest brother, Sam and I will be the only two together this year but it will be lovely. He is a wonderful cook and I was very touched today when he sent me an e-mail to ask me to be in charge of the gravy.....I am bringing a cherry pie, too. That is a custom I have carried over from my mother, as she always made Sam a cherry pie at Thanksgiving. My mother taught me to make great gravy! My Dad will join us Thursday along with some lovely friends of my brother and his wife. They have 9 children and are such great company, making it feel like the old days!
Around the country my other siblings and some of my children are carrying on the traditions started way back on Twin Cedars Farm in the 1940's.....this week we have all been talking about what we will have and I am sure there will be more talking about it after the fact! It is a lovely thread we have kept going all these years. I feel very very grateful for the gift of all the years of wonderful holiday dinners with my family.
Alas, there is only one of my siblings brave enough to tackle the pickled watermelon rind and that is my brother in Baltimore. Ev has manged to duplicate Mum's recipe very well and on occasion he has brought me a jar as a gift.
Tomorrow night I will make my pies to take along. I will look down and see Nana and Mama's hands as I roll the crust and prepare the fillings and each step I take will be guided by their words and my observations from years in their kitchens.
Just a little note, as I was saying good-bye to Dad after our visit last Saturday he made a point of asking me to be sure to ask my brother to cut some very thin slices of turkey for him on Thursday, "just like Mama would do." He is thinking about food and just how he likes it, too! I will be sure there are some very special thin slices just for Dad!
Oh, and about the gravy....my way of producing good gravy is to place the turkey (rubbed with butter) on top of a layer of fresh herbs....thyme, sage, and parsley..... several cloves of fresh garlic chopped, several ribs of celery, a whole sliced onion, and a sliced carrot. I do not use a rack in the pan! Cook the turkey on the lowest rack in the oven, basting every 1/2 hour. All these herbs and veggies cook down to make a lovely base for the gravy. When the turkey is done, let it rest for 20 min or so (very important), then place on a platter and drain most of the fat from the pan and scoop out the solid pieces. I then mix flour with the rest of the pan drippings and stir in the broth in which I simmered the giblets (use chicken or veggie broth if you don't cook the giblets - plain water or water from cooking veggie is fine, too). Scrape the pan and bring heat up slowly, adding water as the mixture thickens. Let the gravy simmer in the pan, stirring often and season to taste. Add more liquid, as necessary.
PS. My brother always brines his turkey....there are many, many brining solutions available on line and in cook shops. I think it does make a difference.