To Give Thanks...The Holiday That I Look Forward to All Year
Over the river and thru the woods always fascinated me as a child. Currier and Ives images filled my head of the perfect Thanksgiving.
While I despise winter and mourn the loss of summer and all of its warmth and easy living, I have to admit that I love autumn for not only its splendor, but because it signals the coming of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year.
While many of you (and sadly probably, most of you) are already decorating for Christmas or at the very least have started Christmas preparations, or are looking forward to Black Friday, I am knee deep in excitement and anticipation over the fact that Thanksgiving is on its way. Lists have been made, the big, fat turkey has been bought and Ive already looked at the photo of last year's Thanksgiving table to remember how to re-create the same thing as last year. Yes...I am that OCD!
I readily admit that I am a throwback. I could easily believe that I have been reincarnated from another place and another time. And I could see myself as a Pilgrim mother and wife preparing for the long, hard and cold winter ahead by storing as much as I could of autumn's bounty and preparing a feast to give thanks for all the blessings this new country had bestowed.
I feel a link to our female ancestors and certainly to my own mother and grandmothers and aunts, who canned and froze and smoked and saved nuts and berries and prepared for the cold months of winter. When I open a pantry or kitchen cupboard or my freezer and see it well stocked and full of food to get us thru the imagined emergencies we might have while Old Man Winter beats on our doors, I feel comforted and safe and content that I have done my ancestors proud in this modern way of living. I think this "nesting" instinct is strong in many of us. And even tho we have modern heating and every possible convenience to keep us warm and sheltered, there is that feeling that we must be prepared for the long, cold winter ahead.
As a little girl, sitting in school and reading about Thanksgiving, I was fascinated by the imagery of riding on a big sleigh, wrapped in heavy blankets, across the fields and thru the rivers on our way to grandmother's house for the annual Thanksgiving feast. The images made famous by Currier and Ives have stuck in my mind and the feelings those messages conveyed is in great part why this holiday remains one of my two favorites....Independence Day being the other.
Dont get me wrong. I love Christmas. But Christmas has become an almost 4 month mega event when we consider that retailers begin inundating us with advertising as early as August and it steadily increases with each month leading up to December.
I resent not being able to enjoy both Thanksgiving and Christmas as their own, respective holidays because merchandisers have convinced the majority of Americans that if we dont buy it now, decorate it now, cook it now, wrap it now, sing it now, we are somehow missing out on something.
I think that part of the reason I love Thanksgiving so much has to do with food and food preparation. Generations of women in my family, on both sides, left a time stamp on my memory of them and their Thanksgiving specialties as well as images of them standing over a stove stirring gravy, or kneading and rolling dough for those famous dinner rolls, or stuffing the bird. And anyone old enough to remember, will agree that, back in those days, everyone stuffed their birds. There may have been a separate casserole of stuffing/dressing, but the bird was always stuffed. It wasnt until much later when we all had our collective consciousness raised about the perils of bird stuffing, that so many people stopped doing it.
Oh but I remember very well, sitting at the kitchen table, at what seemed like the middle of the night, watching my mother stuff and truss the bird. My Dad would help her tuck the wings and the legs in and then out came the big ball of kitchen twine and the kitchen scissors and before you knew it, the big bird was oven ready and the house was filled with that unmistakable smell of Thanksgiving.
Pies, made from scratch, were made a day or two ahead and sat "resting" in the butler pantry off the kitchen. No self-respecting cook, in those days, would have ever dreamed of buying all ready made pie crusts, even if they had been available. It was like a badge of honor to make everything from scratch as well as a labor of love. Pie crusts were works of art as well as taste. Shortening was the hands down, expected ingredient in order to turn out a beautiful, lighter than air, flaky, yet crispy pie crust and cooks all over the country competed with each other on who could prepare the best pie crusts.
For my money and I think my Dad's and anyone else at our Thanksgiving table, the winner would have to have been my Mom. Her pie crusts were melt in your mouth delicious and time after time, no matter what the pie filling, those crusts got raves.
My Mom was an excellent cook. Certainly not classically trained. But she and her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook managed to make mouths water at every holiday meal.
Gravy didnt come from a jar and stuffing didnt come out of a package. Standing at the kitchen counter and tearing endless pieces of bread was my job and my contribution to the feast and these days, when I stand at my own kitchen counter, tearing bread apart for dressing, I remember back to those days when, as a little girl, it all seemed so special and magical and I smile and I remember the effort and love that went into all that was Thanksgiving. From the food, to the relatives, to the drive to an aunt's house one year, to the heavy warmth of a house filled with too many people who had probably had too much beer, to the coats piled high on the bed. And of course, to that moment when Dad or Uncle Walt would stand at the head of the table, knife in hand and say a few words about what the day meant and then begin carving into that big, beautifully browned bird.
The day is all about food and football. Im sorry that it also has become all about shopping. However, each to his own, and I can understand that Black Friday, has become for many, a new tradition and regardless of what that tradition is, I am all for tradition and making memories.
In our family...tradition on Thanksgiving day is all about the meal, which includes (of course) the star of the meal a 20 lb. turkey, accompanied by Mom's bread and celery stuffing fragrant with sage. Im not one to mess with what works or to try new things on a holiday that screams tradition. Trying to re-invent the wheel when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner isnt going to happen in my house. So if you enjoy cranberries and apples and sausage in your stuffing...Im happy for you. But here, on my Thanksgiving table, it will always be bread and celery and onion stuffing. Its simple, American fare which most families enjoy and wouldnt dare change. Green Bean Casserole. mashed potatoes, lots of good, homemade gravy are piled onto plates and there is a nod to my childhood with cranberry/orange relish and sweet potato casserole...dinner rolls and for the kids, pistachio pudding fluff (if you have to ask, dont!) A relish tray with olives, celery and radishes to add some color to the mostly bland and brown color scheme. All finished off with the expected pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie and fresh whipped cream.
Its just a given that I will sit down and we will say grace and I will get tears in my eyes thinking back. But to me, that is the essence of the holiday and perhaps why I love it so much. Its all about the past, right now, here in the present, with a huge nod to the future as I look around the table at my children and grandchildren and hope that they, too, will someday have the same memories of this day, that I have.
Thanksgiving is the one day of the year, that no matter who you are, where you grew up, what color your skin is, or where you choose to worship, where everyone is united under one banner. All across our great country, there are women, in their kitchens, early on the 4th Thursday of November, getting a turkey ready to be roasted or setting a beautiful table or doing as I do and remembering those Thanksgivings from long ago and smiling at the memories of those people who are no longer with us but who impacted our lives so heavily.
Thanksgiving is the day we give thanks for all that we are blessed with in this country. Its the day we stop and think...REALLY think...about how very lucky we are to have been born in this great country where people still believe that dreams really can come true. Its the day we honor our fighting men and women who are far away from their loved ones and their Thanksgiving traditions, and who are helping to preserve the exact things we are giving thanks for. It is the day that we forget our everyday differences and disparities. It is the day that even if youre eating gravy from a jar and stuffing from a box, that you are still part of a great, big, fantastic realization that there is nothing more wonderful than being an American on this day.
Best pie crust ever!
Butter-flavored shortening also works well in this basic recipe.
Old Man Winter
Do you know the history of this holiday?
- History of Thanksgiving - Thanksgiving - HISTORY.com
Find out more about the history of History of Thanksgiving, including videos, interesting articles, pictures, historical features and more. Get all the facts on HISTORY.com
Old Fashioned Bread Stuffing
This simple recipe makes enough to stuff up to a 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey. It can also be baked in a casserole dish.