I happen to like Thanksgiving. Always have. It’s a holiday for anyone and everyone in this country–except, of course, those who hate turkey. There’s quite a few of these curmudgeonly folks, but I’m happy to report I’m not one of them. Even if the turkey ends up dry and overcooked, it’s nothing a little gravy and cranberry sauce can’t fix. And although the turkey is the centerpiece, it’s the accompaniments that make the meal.
Speaking of making the meal: my turkey is happily roasting in the oven as we speak. Stuffed, despite subtle discouragement from the USDA (“for more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole”–yeah, right, that’s for the overflow stuffing, fraidy-cat bureaucrats). The USDA fact sheet on roasting turkeys makes the endeavor sound like the preparations for a space launch, so fraught with technical pitfalls it appear to be.
My theory on turkeys is that they’re like children: you coax them along and just do the best you can, but as long as you don’t utterly ruin or abuse them, they have their own innate characteristics that will manifest in the end. A dry and tough bird will be a dry and tough bird despite all that draping in fat-soaked cheesecloth, a tender and tasty one will withstand a certain amount of overdoing.
One year my brother and I were cooking at my parents house and somehow we set the oven on “broil,” an error that was only discovered about an hour before the turkey was due to be done. It was one of the best turkeys ever. Another time the turkey had turned deep bluish purple on defrosting and was so hideous and dangerous-looking it had to be abandoned. Another terrible time, that has lived in infamy ever since, my mother decided turkey was passe and that we’d have steak on Thanksgiving.
Since I like to eat, I am drawn to the fact that Thanksgiving is a food-oriented holiday with a basic obligatory theme (turkey plus seasonal autumnal food) and almost infinite variations on that theme. Sweet potatoes? Absolutely–but oh, the myriad ways to make them, some revolting, some sublime. Pie? Of course, but what kind? And what to put on it, ice cream, whipped cream, or both?
For me, there are three traditional requirements–besides the turkey, of course. There has to be at least one pecan pie, although eating it in all its sickening sweetness can put an already-sated person right over the top. The cranberry sauce has to be made from fresh cranberries (it’s easy: cranberries, water, and sugar to taste, simmered on top of the stove till mushy and a bright deep red), and lots of it (it’s good on turkey sandwiches the next day, too).
The traditional stuffing in my family is non-traditional: a large quantity of cut-up Granny Smith apples cooked in fair amount of sherry as well as a ton of butter till a bit soft; and then mixed with prunes, almonds, and one Sara Lee poundcake reduced to crumbs by crushing with the hands.
Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that has a theme that is vaguely religious–giving thanks–but has no direct and specific religious affiliation. So it’s a holiday that unites. It’s one of the least commercial holidays as well, because it involves no presents. It’s a home-based holiday, which is good, too, except for those who don’t have relatives or friends to be with. One drawback is the terribly compressed travel time; I solve that by not usually traveling very far if I can possibly help it.
The main advantage to hosting the day is having the leftovers left over. The main disadvantage to hosting the day is having the leftovers left over.
I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, filled with friends and/or family of your choice, and just the right amount of leftovers!