Thanksgivings of my childhood…..

November 23, 2003

Thanksgivings of my childhood…..

Going out to my uncle’s house, as I was growing up, was a huge part of my Thanksgiving memories. There were always loads of people, cousins our age, tons of food, and so much fun! We would go there early in the day. My aunt was always busy in the kitchen preparing masses of food. The large dining room had two very large tables pushed together and was beautifully laid with the finest cloth, china, crystal, and silver. Seating for around 14, and usually more, at one table was a challenge, but always fun, as we would eagerly look around to see where our placecards were and whom we would sit next to for dinner.

The four of us kids would join our four cousins in a game of touch football in the yard, usually with added cousins from the other side of their family too. The grandmothers would watch and hover in the kitchen. The grown-ups would be busily cooking and carving, and get going with some drinks. Eventually, we would be called to come inside, and we would eagerly clamour through the swinging door into the dining room. Soon everyone would have heaping plates sitting in front of them. We would pass around the little silver bowls filled with olives, celery, and even one of pickled watermelon, which none of the kids seemed to like except for me. One year, someone began running a wet finger around the rim of the beautiful glasses at each place, and soon all of the kids were joining in, and a wonderfully forbidden glowing sound rose in the air of the room. That became something to do each year as well.

As everyone was finally seated, my uncle would prepare for his grace. It was always long. He was a wonderfully verbose man who was very good at grace. He was so thankful for so much, and was so good at weaving many things into the grace. He’d touch on current events, historical aspects, and personal things as well. We would all be sitting, heads bowed, hands united around the wonderfully huge table, and eyeing the food on our plates in front of us, growing slowly cooler. It seemed to take forever.

Then someone, one of my cousins, of course never me, would start to chuckle. That was a recipe for disaster. We knew we would soon be getting “the look” from one of the grown-ups. And once someone started giggling, it was unbelievably contagious. We would be squeezing the hand of our neighbor and trying to stop the wave of laughter that was taking over inside .If it was an adult next to us, they would feel it building and try to send the message to stop with their squeeze. My uncle would press on, somehow ignore the low tremor that was overtaking many of the children. Oh it seemed to go on forever some years. The anticipation of the giggling almost became worse as the years went on. Who would break first, and when? We would raise our eyes, looking around to see our cousins. As our eyes connected, we knew someone would break down soon, and the looks contributed to worsening the situation. It was all at once, a dreaded situation, yet eagerly anticipated by most of us as we knew we would be laughing uncontrollably the instant my uncle said “amen”.

The meal was always good and we stuffed ourselves in the way that everyone seems to at thanksgiving dinner. Plates and food were cleared, and we would all adjourn to the living room. A rousing game of charades was always in store, to allow time for dinner to settle before trying to eat dessert. Two teams would be chosen, and we would separate to different rooms to come up with difficult things for the other team to try to act out. Then the fun would really begin. We would soon be laughing wildly at each other. We did ridiculous things to get our team to try to guess the title we’d been given in the least amount of time. We would always hurt from laughing so hard. My cousins seemed to make us laugh more than anything as they were so free in acting things out. Any guest in any given year, would be required to join in and found themselves sucked into the unabashed laughter that was our game. We really loved it. It allowed us to be so free and feel so good.

Many of us would go outside for a walk to get some fresh air. We’d fill our senses with the clean and quiet outdoors by walking down to the pond. It was a wonderfully beautiful property that my cousins called home. We would walk down past the lawns, past the barn and the blanketed horse in his pasture who had been missing all of the fun while peacefully munching his hay. Being New England, it would often begin to snow, bringing the sense of wonder that always came with the first snow of the year. We would be refreshed and renewed as we reentered the house with all of it’s warmth and laughter to sit by the fire before all of the good-byes would begin. Those good-byes were always a process to be savored as well, with wonderful strong embraces and good-byes to each, which always seemed to take forever to do!

My uncle and aunt have both sadly passed away, and the huge, memory-filled house is for sale. Everyone has grown up and dispersed to many places. We all have smaller gatherings at which to be. I will only be cooking for 6 adults and 4 kids this year. I have incorporated some new favorites into our menu, some of which I have included below. It will never be the thanksgiving of my childhood, that I will always miss. Those memories have a large and very special place in my heart. They are filled with laughter, good food and family we loved. They are cherished in a way that makes me smile and laugh instantly, yet makes me sad with the yearning for that experience again, wanting that familiar glow to take over my body. I know those memories need to stay peacefully there though, as I grow into my own new traditions as an adult.

Cranberry Chutney

from a holiday recipe booklet from William’s- Sonoma- Thanksgiving 2000. Really easy and very good!!

1 pound fresh cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups orange juice
1 cup apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
6 fresh mint leaves

In a saucepan, over medium heat, stir everything together. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer stirring occasionally, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 1 hour.
Remove from heat, cool to room temp and refrigerate until ready to serve. Or can the mixture in sterilized jars. (I put it into hot jars, then invert them) Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 2 1/2 cups

I could only find packages of cranberries that were 12 ounces.
Here are the amounts for that: ***
12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups orange juice
3/4 cups apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
4 fresh mint leaves
***doubling this makes a little more than 7 jars

Scalloped Yams with Praline Topping

My cousin Lorie made this for a thanksgiving feast at my Uncle’s house. It is incredibly delicious! Even those who don’t normally like yams(that’s you mom) will like this recipe! (and she does)

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsps unsalted butter, at room temp.
3 Tbsps all purpose flour
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
6 medium yams (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2″ thick rounds”
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. In a small bowl, using your fingers, work the brown sugar, butter, and flour together until well combined, then work in the pecans. Set aside. (The praline topping can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead and stored at room temperature.)
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the yams and cook until just crisp tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook- they should be able to hold their shape when drained. Drain and rinse under cold running water.
3. Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly butter a 9×13 inch baking dish.
4. Arrange the yams, overlapping in vertical rows, in the prepared dish. Pour the cream over the yams. (This can be done up to 8 hours before baking, covered tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. But make sure you add the cream first, otherwise you get black spots on the yams!)
5. Bake for 20 minutes. (longer if it was cold from the fridge) Crumble the pecan mixture over the yams and continue baking until they are tender and the topping is browned, 20-30 more minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 8-12 servings

Peas and Turnips with Dill Butter Sauce

I made this for Thanksgiving 2002. Very good and easy too! I used frozen (and thawed) diced turnips- sautéed a little longer. Definitely worth doing again and again, ….and way better than having mashed turnips!!!!!

8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, room temperature
4 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
8 bacon slices, chopped
1 1/4 pounds turnips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 16-ounce bags frozen petite peas, thawed

Mix 6 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons dill in small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. (Dill butter can be made 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)
Sauté bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. (Can be made 2 hours ahead; let stand at room temperature.)
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add turnips and sauté until tender and golden, about 9 minutes. Add peas and dill butter and stir until peas are heated through, about 3 minutes. Stir in bacon. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp dill and serve.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Bon Appétit
November 2002

Turkey Croquettes

This recipe is from the Silver Palate New Basics…. great for all the leftovers from thanksgiving!! Sometimes I make them ahead and just keep the patties in the fridge for a few days, cooking only one or two at a time for a good little meal!

3 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped cooked turkey
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. dried thyme
(I also add 1 tsp. sage)
1 cup seasoned dried bread crumbs (it calls for 2, but I only think 1)
2 Tbsp paprika (I use Hungarian sweet)
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 cup corn oil
2 Tbsp butter

1. Soak the bread slices in the milk for 10 minutes. Remove the bread, squeeze it dry, and shred it. Set it aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the turkey, shredded bread, onion, eggs, thyme, sage, and some salt. Toss well. Then transfer the mixture to a food processor, and using the pulse action, process until it is well blended but not completely pureed. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Combine the bread crumbs, paprika and melted butter in a 9 inch pie plate. Stir with a fork.
4 Shape the chilled turkey mixture into 8 large patties. Coat them with the bread crumb mixture, cover with plastic wrap, and return to the fridge for 1 hour more.
5. Heat 1/2 cup of the corn oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter in a large skillet. Cook the croquettes over medium heat, several at a time, until golden: 7 minutes on one side, and 5 minutes on the other. Set them aside and keep warm. Repeat with remaining croquettes, adding more oil and butter as necessary.
6. Heat the gravy and serve the hot croquettes topped with the gravy.

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