November 6, 2011

“Oh, just in time for Thanksgiving”

We asked Jane Grawe (mother of friend and TofC contributor Sam Grawe ) to write us something from her rich culinary experiences all over the world. Every time we're in her company, we talk for hours about recipes, travels, ingredients, history, etc. Here's a little piece for you to enjoy. 


There are a few things in life you don’t do very often, and I did one of those today; I went to look for a new stove.  Then, in the course of conversing about its merits and installation and delivery fees, I surprised myself by saying , “Oh, just in time for Thanksgiving”...  Well, that is primarily because I have rarely cooked Thanksgiving dinner in the traditional Norman Rockwell sense for over two decades.

Everyone has a sense of how the day should go--mine was formed , of course, in my childhood, and particularly in my teen years in Concord, Massachusetts  where our high school football team had its annual closing game against Lexington at 10:30 am on Thanksgiving Day.  That excursion fulfilled the prerequisite need for some exercise and cool and crisp air,  for sure.  Our table had that quintessential turkey,  and was filled as well with a bounty of local produce--Hubbard squash, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and of course, cranberry sauce.  There were celery and carrot sticks and a few pimento-stuffed green olives on a Majolica plate used for the occasion as well. Mince pie and squash pies sat on the sideboard waiting.  The proper time for that meal was sometime in the mid-afternoon, which meant that, before bedtime, each of us could go back out to the kitchen for leftovers.  We’d lift the dampened dishtowel that my mother had placed over the turkey to keep it moist, and pick and slice the meat we wanted, light or dark.  Then, with a healthy slathering of cool mayonnaise on a slice of her homemade white bread, or Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread otherwise, each would make a turkey sandwich, usually with a slice of stuffing and a bit of cranberry sauce.  An earlier childhood memory is of my widowed mother, who while short on funds was long on tradition, made a football shaped meatloaf to which she attached paper frills sitting on chopsticks in lieu of the absent drumsticks.

Through the years, however, things changed.  Once I was upcountry in Kenya with some Peace Corps’ friends, and one, who weekly rode his bicycle to town for the mail, wearing flip flops over the miles of dirt roads, had previously announced that he would bring a turkey for our American celebration.  No one knew how he rode a bike with a live turkey on board, nor the Swahili word for turkey, so the housekeeper’s son was asked to slaughter and clean the “rather large chicken”, which he efficiently did before going for his day off.  It was my charge to make the stuffing (no problem, I’ve had plenty of experience with  that) and to cook the turkey.  That turned out to be a big problem, because we were cooking in a house with no electricity and with only a wood stove.  Well, to make a long story short, by ten pm, the turkey still wasn’t cooked sufficiently so we all went to bed hungry, and we fired up the stove properly the next day so the turkey could be properly cooked.

Over the years, we’ve put everything from oysters and sausages to chestnuts and apples in the stuffing, but we have always insisted on Bell’s seasoning for flavor, and we have never called it dressing.  Once, we had a family car trip complete with cooked turkey to a country inn in Upstate New York to accommodate our college-basketball playing daughter for her practices and tournament.  And another time, my daughter announced that she was going to bone the turkey and stuff it. She did, and the results were spectacular; it tasted absolutely delicious, made carving a dream, and everyone got a bit of both white and dark meat.  We practiced the boning on a Cornish hen--that was difficult and required quite a bit of manual dexterity!


Returning closer to the present, last year in November,  I was in Switzerland visiting my daughter.  We weren’t able to buy, nor would we have been able to consume, an entire turkey.  So, we bought a leg/thigh piece and a breast piece.  Putting the experience of that boned turkey to work, Katie made a stuffing and rolled it into the breast piece which she then covered with bacon.  The other piece was set to roast on top of an array of fall vegetables-- carrots and parsnips being requisite to our minds.  Starting with an appetizer which included foie gras, mache (lamb’s tongue/lamb’s lettuce) and a quince based dressing, we had a spectacular Thanksgiving feast.


Purchasing those turkey pieces in Switzerland, and after having had a few Thanksgivings in India,  it finally occurred to me just what the meaning of the French word for turkey was all about: la dinde, from d’Inde, which literally means “of India”, but alas, not that India.  Back to those helpful Wampanoag, and in particular Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) who taught the  Pilgrims how to plant corn and to use fish as fertilizer.  Which then makes me wonder, why don’t we eat herring as a first course at Thanksgiving?  And, just what will I be cooking  on that day on my new stove while I’m sipping a glass of Zinfandel.....

Text and photos: Jane Grawe

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