I admit it. I’m reluctant to turn loose of the old customs as regards Thanksgiving and Christmas. But my idea of what is tradition only extends as far back as my memory takes me. I’m talking about what was considered a proper Thanksgiving spread prepared by my own mother.
The menu hardly ever varied….. a big stewing hen with lots of rich broth for her lighter-than-air dumplings, pans of cornbread and sage dressing, green beans from the summer garden, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, home-made pickles, deviled eggs, cornbread and an assortment of pies and cakes of Mama’s choosing. Any departure from this set menu would have been an act of heresy.
The diet of the early pilgrims seemed rather sparse compared to what we have today. No potatoes were served because they had yet to learn to cultivate them. There would have been no cranberry sauce. And no pumpkin pie, although it’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without the dessert which has become a necessary part of our tradition.
A likely scenario would have been roasted venison, fish, and boiled turkey and a couple of boiled vegetables. Eating the turkey was risky, however. Recalling that a group of hunters had brought back an unusual number of them, one ran the risk of either swallowing or breaking a molar on overlooked birdshot that was still left in the bird after it was cooked. A stomach full of lead would hardly be to one’s liking.
Mama’s house was always the gathering place for our family members and their passel of children and grandchildren, several of whom had come from miles away. This made for a scramble for enough chairs around the dining room table with the younger kids seated at their own table in the kitchen. The clatter of voices was like a henhouse full of chickens with everyone talking over one another.
I recall that I anticipated growing old enough to sit at the grown-ups table in the dining room, a rite of passage for me. Years later, I was serving dinner at my own table, the same menu as my mother’s except for roasted turkey, still adhering to the adults eating in the dining room, the kids in their place in the kitchen. Old habits die hard.
Looking back, Thanksgiving day encompassed so much more than stuffing ourselves with food alone. It was, and is, a day of togetherness like no other American holiday. And it uniquely ours, a day for remembrance and making new memories. May yours be all you wish it to be.
Here’s a good Thanksgiving dessert.
Pumpkin Pie Dessert Squares
1 box yellow cake mix (approx. 19 oz)
30 oz. pumpkin pie mix
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup butter (cold)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2/3 cup half and half
2 cups sweetened whipped heavy cream
Lightly butter bottom of 9×13 cake pan and reserve.
Measure 1 cup cake mix and reserve.
In large bowl combine remaining cake mix, butter and 1 egg. Evenly press this mixture into pan and reserve.
In separate bowl combine pumpkin mix, 2 eggs and half and half. Mix until smooth. Pour in cake pan.
Combine reserved cake mix in separate bowl with sugar and spices. Cut into this the 1/4 cup of cold butter. Sprinkle on top of pumpkin mixture.
Place pan in 325° convection oven and bake for 45 minutes
Check with toothpick for doneness. Cool and cut into squares and garnish with whipped cream.