As Turkey Day approaches I am trying to decide why women across the United States work themselves into a frenzy each year tying to prepare a huge meal. I think we all need aprons or t-shirts proclaiming that we’ve survived the holiday kitchen wars for years and now we deserve to eat out. I’ve decided that it is part habit and part tradition that causes the madness. Maybe it is the love for leftovers. We sure as heck don’t do it for the fun. Mounds of dirty pots and pans and a destroyed kitchen do not make a party. No matter how much you clean as you go the place is always trashed by the time the cooking has been completed.
And then there are the kitchen disasters. Every cook has had at least one if not more. That is one reason I enjoy the movie “A Christmas Story” so much. I had the year of the frozen bird, hard rolls that would not rise and cooking in my sleep because I worked the night before. My Mother had more than her fair share of disasters. Her holiday meals never lived up to her unreasonable expectations. When I was very young I didn’t notice the failures until she would suddenly burst into tears after removing the bird from the oven and dash off sobbing to hide in the bedroom. Dad would get her calmed down eventually and we’d finally eat dinner. I do recall that she scorched the turkey at least three years in a row in the early 1960s. I never cared much for turkey anyway. In those days I’d have settled for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Mom would attack Thanksgiving like a four star general preparing for a military operation. The main problem was that she did it singlehanded. I am still undecided about whether it would have been better for her to have lived closer to family or not. Her side of the family was nonexistent except for a step mother she loathed. My Dad’s great aunt was a fantastic cook and Mom would have been completely intimidated. They lived in Chicago and the West coast so we never saw them during holidays. As a result the entire event; planning, shopping, and preparing the feast fell on Mom. She didn’t allow me to help in any way other than watch from the kitchen doorway. She had a thing about kids in the kitchen no matter how old they were.
Mom would begin in mid October by writing long notes and longer lists. She would gather all the recipes she had plus some new ones she’d found in magazines during the year. She was always searching for the latest methods of preparing turkey. The blackened turkey problem was finally fixed when an advertisement told how to tent the bird with foil. The shopping list would be added to and then subtracted from as she calculated the cost of each item. She did ask Dad what he would like her to fix only to tell him such and such an item was far too expensive. She had one thing in her favor and that was Dad’s very predictable work schedule. She never had to juggle a holiday meal or event around night shifts or employers that require employees work during holidays like I have.
Over the years she became better at preparting dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy. She eventually made her own cranberry sauce, I like canned much better. The rolls were always brown and serve or canned and there were never enough. That could be why I was determined to learn how to make real yeast rolls. Mom would bake only one pie and it would be pumpkin. One year in the 1970s she feed us a turkey roll (a frozen thing that kind of looked like round span and tasted much worse). I wrote about it last year. Sometimes she would make the yearly fruitcakes early and one would be aged enough by Thanksgiving. She gave fruitcakes to select neighbors, family and others she wanted to torment at Christmas. I found out dousing one in 151 rum and waiting about a week greatly improved it.
On the day of Thanksgiving all we’d have for breakfast was toast or cereal. Then Dad and I would get chased out of the kitchen and it would be transformed into a war zone. Mom never cussed but I’m sure she wanted to during the holidays. In the 1950s poultry was not as perfect as we get from the grocery stores today. Mom would have to singe off pin feathers over the gas burner and sometimes pull them out with tweezers. The neck, heart, liver and gizzard were still kind of attached inside the bird. She had to dig them out so they could be boiled in water to make broth for the dressing and gravy. She’d put together the dressing and wrestle it into the bird (bits and pieces falling out all over the place), then truss the poor beast shut with a huge curved sail needle and thick cotton thread. The bird would be put into the oven looking a bit like Frankenstein’s monster and the countdown would began. The clock was her biggest enemy. Most years nothing got done at the right time. What she never figured out was that slightly cool food was not a huge deal.
She discovered green bean casserole one year, I still detest it. She made good mashed sweet potatoes with butter, brown sugar and a small can of drained crushed pineapple. One year she fixed tiny onions and peas in a cream sauce. It must not have pleased her because she never made it again. Dad and I enjoyed it.
This year I’ll roast a chicken along with dressing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and homemade rolls. I might fix creamed peas and onions. I’ll bake at least one pie, maybe some cookies and possibly a loaf of pumpkin bread. That is the best I can do in a closet sized kitchen with an apartment sized stove. Most of the baking will be done the day or night before.
I expect the cat to supervise again. He sits on top of the top cabinet and watches. Once the chicken is in the oven he sits or lays in front of it.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!