Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Cooking for Thanksgiving Isn’t All It’s Burned Cracked Up to Be




I’ve had Thanksgiving at my house for the last sixteen years, but not this year. (Do you know the story of the wishbone? I’ll explain later.) I’ve worked for days ahead of time to prepare the feast and over the years and tried to improve on what I’ve tried before. How did I know I needed to improve? There were LOTS of particular items left over. Duh! Did you know the Pilgrims and Indians feasted for three days at the first “so-called” Thanksgiving? Maybe in that amount of time, even MY catastrophes would be eaten!

One of my favs to tinker with is the stuffing. Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned. We always had it while growing up and you know what happens, you make the same thing! My mother-in-law used to make corn bread stuffing from scratch. She made the corn bread first, then, when cool, crumbled it all up and added something to it (she never told me what – her secret recipe is forever a secret). She’s a southern cook through and through, so I think there had to be some bacon grease in there, but who knows?



It was the driest pile of starch I ever wrapped my gums around, I couldn’t even swallow. My salivary glades were working overtime to add some moisture, but the glob just sat there. My observant husband was busy packing away the meal, including the cornbread stuffing (what the heck, he grew up with it so it was no surprise to him!).

My thoughts rambled back to the first feast in 1621 when the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrim settlers shared food together in celebration of the harvest. They didn’t have corn bread, in fact all they had was dried corn. They had seafood, duck, goose, deer and a few veggies, but no mashed potatoes! I wondered what kind of social faux pas would occur between them if someone didn’t like what was served. Would the guest quietly expel the food into a napkin or continue to try to swallow as I did, knowing full well I could choke to death in a matter of seconds if this plasterlike clump didn’t soon pass my epiglottis and head south. My observant husband handed me a full glass of iced tea and I was in love again. Hydrated now, the culprit was inching down the esophagus, with no other cornbread companions ever to join it.

I never made cornbread stuffing after that experience, although I found a recipe for an Upside-Down Cheesy Onion Cornbread on the Betty Crocker site that looks very tempting to make.

However, I did experiment with my family dressing and my husband loves it. One year I put in pecans and grapes along with the usual onion, celery, parsley and butter. Another year, raisins, oranges and Grand Marnier. He loved that one even more!

It’s really been fun to conjure up new creations, but my heart goes out to the limitations of the Plymouth feast. Three days of eating not much variety and what if you’re allergic to seafood? That limits you to duck, goose and deer, no turkey back in 1621. (I wonder if that’s where the game Duck, Duck Goose originated?) They had squash, peas, carrots and harvested nuts from the forest including chestnuts and walnuts, and although they were sharing food and giving thanks for the harvest, three days of that would wear thin. And what would you eat when you went back to your village? Ham sandwiches?

But you know that this was a hardy group, both settlers and Native Americans. The Wampanoag had lived in this area for over 12,000 years, harvesting and hunting. Other European settlers had landed there before the people on the Mayflower so some of the Indians spoke English, including Squanto, a Wampanoag, who helped the settlers plant corn and fertilize the kernels with fish from the rivers and sea. It’s not probable that the settlers called it Thanksgiving in 1621, even though they feasted together, but they did offer thanks and prayers to God in 1623 after a two-month drought. Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, declared the fourth Thursday in November “Thanksgiving,” a time for families to get together, honor our brave settlers and show their thanks for the blessings they receive all year.

Okay, the wishbone tradition. In the turkey, by the breast bone is a wishbone that many use to make a wish on after it’s plucked out of the turkey (or chicken) and left to dry out for a few weeks. Sometimes, mine gathers dust while I try to think of a magnificent wish. I tried wishing to win the lottery; didn’t work. Maybe too greedy? So, finally, I made my wish with my husband holding onto one side and me the other. The person who ends up with the longest piece is supposed to get the wish fulfilled. I won! Two guesses what my wish was! Yep, my beautiful daughterin law is preparing a magnificent Thanksgiving dinner this year! I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving and the richness of family love and appreciation for all we have!

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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