With the big holiday only a mere week away, I present to you this friendly, albeit no-so-helpful, Thanksgiving Dinner Primer.
This is the most over-thought protein in the world. There are built-in thermometers, specifically-crafted deep-fryers, brining bags the size of Samsonites and special 1-800 hotlines to cook the easiest part of the entire Thanksgiving meal. If you find yourself calling a hotline to tell you how to throw a bird in the oven and cook it until it’s 180 degrees, you’ve got bigger problems than Butterball can solve.
Here’s where a hotline is actually needed because it’s the most complex component on the menu. Caller: Hello? My gravy is filled with lumps and the color of a cotton ball. Gravy expert: Sounds like you have enough flour in there to make about a dozen Parker House rolls. Please hold while I transfer you to the yeast hotline.
No matter how many pounds you bought, it’s not enough. Double, triple, square the amount you think is too much. Become Idaho. I’m talking enough starch to stiffen all the collars in Vatican City during Advent. Enough for all the sheets on Martha Stewart’s estates. So much that Dr. Atkins returns from the grave to make you a steak dinner. You must make all of the potatoes.
This is an often over-looked dish on the Thanksgiving table. That wonderful separated spread of gherkins, dill pickles and roasted peppers. You may be tempted to skip this item when you realize how many extra items you actually have to buy, but if someone isn’t trying to eat a turkey leg with ten black olives stuck on their fingers, it’s not really a family holiday.
I’m guessing that cranberry sauce has become an American Thanksgiving staple not insomuch from culinary tradition, but more to stave off bladder infections for women standing 12 hours in front of their stoves perfecting lump-less gravy with no bathroom breaks.
Now I don’t get all Chief Judging Judge and Miles StanJudgish on what people put in their Thanksgiving stuffing. Cornbread, white bread, apples, oysters–whatever you want is good by me. I can’t promise that I won’t get all Sally Salmonella on you if you cook it inside the bird instead of safely along side of it, however.
You may not think that sweet potatoes are needed if you already have mashed potatoes, but you would be wrong. Again, it just wouldn’t be a proper family holiday without a bad Popeye “I yam what I yam” impression and a fist fight over marshmallows.
This is where the meal gets dicey, and I don’t mean how to cut the carrots. There are those among us that insist on weird objects like turnips, rutabaga and creamed onions. I have no frame of reference for these things. For me, they are not just foreign items on my holiday table, but from a different century. But I assume they pair nicely with mincemeat pie and aspics.
Speaking of pies, yes to all of them. Apple, pumpkin, pecan. It’s a little known historic fact that Native Americans gave the Pilgrims diabetes on the first Thanksgiving in return for that small pox favor.
Wine and other adult beverages
I like a nice Pinot Noir with my turkey, but by the time I get a meal cooked for 18 people with 77 different @#$#% side dishes to accommodate every guest’s personal Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, peeled my weight in potatoes, and snuck in six calls to the turkey hotline; I will drink white, red, or the moonshine I accidentally made when I tried to Sous-vide the creamed corn to save oven space.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
For Scott Garrett, a loving man who loved to laugh. We’ll miss you, Hazel.
©2013 Tracey Henry