Let's talk turkey
By DOROTHY DUFFY
Monday, November 16, 2009
From over the river to Grandma's house to over the hill as Grandma we've had so many Thanksgivings with a lot of stuff in between.
Early Thanksgivings were a challenge. Just where to sit everyone, often in houses without dining rooms, meant some sat on the arms of chairs, boxes with pillows or babies on laps. Our mothers cooked "from scratch" on wood stoves. My mother would chop a huge Hubbard squash into workable pieces on the block outdoors, cook it, squash and season it, yet once en route to the table, it slipped from the fingers to the floor. It was hardly missed with all the other root vegetables but love's labor lost!
My dad's job was to amuse us by having Headless Tom turkey trot on the white enameled tabletop. Diddle, diddle, diddle, . . .
I made my first Thanksgiving dinner at age 12 when my mother was bedridden. She instructed me from the pillows to the pot. I don't remember how I did — guess the others were thankful they didn't have to do it.
My second attempt at turkey was in the 50s when I had my first apartment in Long Beach, Long Island — affordable but so desolate and barren in the winter — me and the gulls. I invited my sister, aunt and uncle to dinner. My face was flushed from fuss and flurry as I remembered my mother's to be. The pride soon drained when my uncle, the carver, pulled out a sack of cooked innards from Tom's cavity.
Just as my marriage introduced more ethnic cultures in the family mix, so did the traditions. My siblings married French-Canadians adding toutierre to the menu. My German mother-in-law's rutabaga with potatoes and creamed onions were included with my family's Harvard beets, mincemeat pie and Grammie Lowell's Indian Pudding. Later when the three Italian in-laws joined the family, antipasto and lasagna might appear.
The first time the big Duffy family sat at our table laden and labored over with luscious food, cornucopias, candles and linens, the men asked the ladies to sit back so they could still watch some overgrown kid kick a pigskin about on the television. In a twit, I shut off the TV, slammed the doors shut and with hands planted firmly on each hip, addressed the old sports with, "I spent all day cooking this meal! You better damned well spend a few minutes enjoying it!"
This actually claimed my role in the family. My mother-in-law was beaming. Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-times take 12 minutes. This is not coincidence. - Erma Bombeck.
When I was expecting my second child, I couldn't stand the smell of turkey. I bundled the bird up and stuck it in freezer. Yet, even much later and thawed, it still nauseated me, so I sent it flying and stuck to my doughnuts.
Over the years, a French exchange student was our guest with "Tres bien, Madame" and a Fresh Air Fund kid from the ghetto who announced, "I don't like white meat." Now he's a cook on Riker's Island. Recently, I have dined with Turkish and Bhutanese refugees who didn't have a clue what they were eating but were truly thankful of the moment.
Thanksgivings stay traditional for most, invite change for others or arouse emotions for many. The turkey itself has changed. Some now are marinated, boneless, smoked, deep-fried. The range-grown lean and lanky turkeys are now like our young ladies, plump and full-breasted — even the Toms. Oh, oh, another quote: I love Thanksgiving turkey. It's the only time in Los Angeles that you see natural breasts. - Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But the saddest for some may be to dine alone. While you can eat what you want, where you want, when you want and with or without half-time frolics and really pampering the palette, it isn't the same without the family hassle.
Bon appétit, mon amis!