Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Evils of Thanksgiving Dinner

I shared this in the comments over at Jacked Up Glock Mom’s blog Tales From the Clothesline so I thought I’d share it here too.

It’s the link to a Google Document that is my Thanksgiving menu for this year, complete with in-document links to most of the recipes. This year I went smaller and rather more traditional than usual, budget constraints insisted. I hope you don’t think them plain or boring, because they won’t be. Recipes are a set of guidelines in my opinion and part of the fun for me is shaking them up, for example a bit of smoked maple salt found it’s way into the Chex Mix. That’s not in the recipe but it should be. Also, if the recipe calls for something in a can you can be sure that I’m probably using something I canned or otherwise preserved at home, and if it seems like it could use a dose of molasses it probably has it but I didn’t include it in the recipe because of a relative who insists they don’t like molasses as they’re inhaling gingerbread cookies that have almost a cup of molasses in them.

Some of the recipes are a bit cobbled together, when I originally made the document it was just for Cave and I, and I know what I’m going to do so I didn’t think it necessary to make them any more user friendly. The turkey recipe is the most mish-mashed, I believe, but it’s pretty straight forward, brine it for a day in ingredients similar to the cure, cure it for a day, then cook it. I cut back on the salt in the brine by however much I use in the cure. Apple cider is figuring heavily into it this year, both in the brine and in the basting. Sometimes I even layer bacon under the skin and across the breast, but that’s more for the spread I put out on Super Bowl Sunday than something I do for Thanksgiving.

I will warn you that while the turkey is very good it doesn’t have the flavor profile of a traditional roast turkey. The first time I served it for Thanksgiving one of the matriarchs refused to eat it and went so far as to apologize to everyone at the table for my “weird sugar” turkey. Thankfully most were too busy eating my food to notice, but I heard it. While I was in the kitchen wiping my tears and fanning my face I decided to take Thanksgiving and make it my own. So I did. That particular relative was a dark meat and turkey neck fanatic so I would make extra legs and the neck “plain roasted” just for them…in the same pan with the turkey, the only thing I left off was the cure. They raved about it and never caught on.

I still made the jello things for them, dumped a can of pumpkin pie filling into a store bought crust, used their favorite brown n serve rolls, canned cranberry jelly, and made ambrosia salad and that apple mayo waldorf stuff, but everything was served right next to the dishes I thought sounded interesting and wanted to make. Noses were turned up at the wild rice and mushroom pilaf (that one was a bomb, I agree), apple juice instead of orange in the cranberry relish, delicious little meatballs that a friends mom taught me how to make using grape jelly, and was that tossed salad? The only lettuce allowed was in a wilted salad with bacon grease and vinegar. We did agree about the orange salad, it is a staple at every big dinner in my extended family. We stockpile the ingredients for it, Dream Whip has the shelf life of forever.

By the time the biggest critics passed on everyone else was used to seeing my “weird” dishes and were eager to see what I came up with each year. As I matured as a cook, and perhaps as a person, I realized that many of the dishes were traditional because that’s what was most abundant during that season, and that others were considered a special treat or an attempt at sparking interest in a diet that was less diverse than what modern food preservation and importation practices provide now. There was also some pride at showing off cooking skills that weren’t practical during the every day grind. That’s still no reason to do such heinous things to poor, innocent food. (check out Gel-Cooking, my family matriarchs had that book and about wore it out. The Klingon scalp is particularly horrifying.)

I think this is something that everyone has had to struggle with in some way, the passing of the torch to the next generation and the criticism from the old guard at the changes to something that they worked hard at and felt that they had perfected. If they’re particularly critical and unbending, as mine were, it really sucks for the new generation. Hang in there though. Making changes to family traditions without too many bruised feelings is a balancing act but with perseverance new traditions can be added. The younger generations can be your ally in this. My kids haven’t ever known a Thanksgiving dinner without orange salad, love my weird sugar turkey and openly celebrate when they see the crockpot of meatballs simmering away. If I didn’t make them their special dishes they would be sad, and the matriarchs couldn’t stand to see a child disappointed at Thanksgiving.

My new family traditions are still evolving too, and probably always will. I have made changes for Cave’s family, his dad is a vegetarian and since he refuses to allow me to make him his own entrée I’ve added some of my mother-in-laws recipes that I know he likes. His mom isn’t a big fan of pumpkin pie, although she likes mine, so I add something for her in case she isn’t feeling it this season. This year it’s the apple dumplings that were posted today at Chickens in the Road. I’m using ground venison in the meatballs, I wasn’t going to pay almost $10 for two pounds of ground beef. MIL is looking forward to some good venison, but that’s something that would have the matriarchs rolling out of their graves and down the hill. I guess they never read up on the diet of the natives and the interlopers. 

My family is scattered across the world now. As the anchors passed away their people stopped coming home and were absorbed into other families or created their own traditions. My sister and I have each become matriarchs in our own right and while we get along well together in the kitchen it’s not practical for our families to travel half way across the country. It’s quieter, and easier, now that I am able to cook whatever strikes my fancy. Still, I’d be happy to dump a can of vegetable medly into lime jello and be the galley slave to the matriarchs hostessing efforts, eyes practically rolling out of my head while they kept wrinkling their noses and saying “I SUPPOSE it’s okay…”, if it meant I could see the family together again.

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