Looking Back: Pass the Stuffing

I have been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner this year with friends. Along with the invitation came questions about the traditions we followed as I was growing up. I had to look back, trying to discover whether we even had any . . .

“We had family gatherings around the table waiting for the turkey to arrive,” I told my friends. “And all the usual dishes: mashed potatoes, green beans, hot rolls, and pies. I don’t think we really had any traditions we celebrated,” I said. Not much of a reply, but it got me thinking.

We did have a few traditions, if you could call them that.

I remember one year making a marvelous sauce of cooked cranberries, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and chopped pecans. It was delicious, but we still had to make a run to the grocery store for a can of jellied sauce. That was one of our traditions; we had to have canned sauce, or it wasn’t really Thanksgiving.

There were several versions of this mainstay of the dinner that were tried over the years. One uncle preferred a sausage dressing; grandfather wanted oyster dressing, and the rest of us begged for a plain bread dressing with chopped onion and chopped celery waiting to be smothered with turkey gravy. Our tradition was in the term used to describe the dish, Stuffing. We had to have ours cooked in the bird, not just baked alongside.

Giblets (those nasty little pieces of gizzard, heart, and liver chopped up and fried) were not a part of our family tradition. Oh, there were members of the family who liked them, but they were finally removed from the stuffing. They found their way into the gravy, and, thankfully didn’t remain an ingredient there either. These special bits were kept aside especially for grandfather, and we never had to taste them again.

Not for us, although it is popular with our younger generation. We did have green beans, but they were cooked with chopped bacon and onion. No Campbell soup was added.

These had to be baked with brown sugar and butter, sprinkled with chopped pecans and topped with marshmallows just before the baking was finished. This was one of my favorite parts of the meal. We did have white potatoes as well, mashed with plenty of butter and cream.

We had to have pie. Pumpkin, pumpkin, and more pumpkin topped with huge dollops of freshly whipped cream.

The star of the meal was the gravy, beautiful golden, rich gravy which was full of flavor. This had to be made from the juices of the roasted turkey, and there had to be lots of it. As the plates went around the table, this liquid deliciousness was spooned over the potatoes, the stuffing, and the turkey. When it looked like we were going to run out of gravy, there were mock fights over who would get the last spoonful. (There was always enough kept warming in the oven and I don’t remember ever running out.)

Yes, we did have our traditional dinner, with all our favorite dishes. However, there were no special additions, no special rites, no special rituals of prayers. Our biggest tradition was a huge meal shared by all the family that could gather on Thanksgiving Day, unless you consider everyone had to have a nap once dinner was over. That nap is the one tradition I keep to this day.

I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

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