How many frogs does it take to cook a turkey?
Only one; it’s genetic and she’s damn good at it!
Our kitchen was always fragrant with onions, celery, garlic, parsley, thyme… one of the neighbors from around the block would walk up the driveway and comment,
Whatever you are cooking smells wonderful! Even the flies are gathered at your kitchen window screen…
Mom took this remark as it was meant to be; a compliment. She was normally preparing a holiday or family dinner. Often, the flies had gathered on the days she was preparing the farce, a traditional meat stuffing combination of beef and pork, cooked with the seasonings, then ground very fine with her hand grinder clamped to the side of the chopping board. Stale French bread soaked in milk and squeezed almost dry, an egg, and some salt and pepper – Voila! Farce; smelled absolutely divine and scented the entire driveway and two doors down in both directions.
On Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey would be one of two main entrees. Ham was normally the second, unless Daddy decided to barbeque a leg of lamb. All Daddy had to do was normally clean and ready the old round charcoal barbeque; then wait for Mom to tell him the lamb was prepped. Daddy’s station was the backyard. The rest of the meal was in Mom’s kitchen.
Preparing a dinner was always an exhausting effort; no matter the year, the turkey dinner had to be perfect and complete. Thanksgiving might be an American Holiday, but the cuisine had definite French overtones. Nearly every dish took two to three days to complete. There were no shortcuts in Mom’s kitchen.
At one time, a first course soup with a small amount of pasta was served. Mom made the bouillon from scratch. End of the first day, she’d place the pot on the dryer to cool down overnight. Next morning, she’d skim any beef fat that might have congealed so to clarify the broth for serving. On the holiday, she’d boil the entire pot once again, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and then add the very tiny pieces of vermicelli. The plates of soup began the meal.
Somewhere between the bouillon and crab salad a bread basket arrived, a bottle each of red and white wines, and the antipasto plates; one plate included salami with prosciutto, and the other was a sectioned glass dish of pickles, black olives, and pepperoncini.
Time to prepare the individual, molded crab salads. The crab mixture had been made the day before. It included canned crab, finely chopped hardboiled egg, minced celery and parsley, held together with Best Foods Mayonnaise, a bit of lemon and dash of salt and pepper. Mixture was moist and stored covered the day before. Plates were readied with endive and escarole, and then light vinaigrette was spooned over each. We watched our aunt don her cobbler apron and team up with Mom; they each knew the others’ actions because they had assisted my grandfather in his kitchen “down the house”. Our aunt and Mom always enjoyed working together; it was just like old times for them. One was as much a perfectionist as the other, so they got along just fine.
As we grew older, Mom would let us mold the crab mixture in a small demitasse cup, just the right size for a dinner menu this grand. PLOP! The small little hill would sit in the middle (if all went well) and then one would sprinkle a bit of paprika on the mound for color. A black olive on top, a lemon wedge on the side. Perfect! The salads were stacked inside the fridge, on tops of jars and other glass containers to remain chilled for serving.
Years later, we convinced Mom to skip the soup; none of us younger generation missed the clarified broth very much; personally, I thought the final dish was not worth the effort. The individual crab salads were so colorful that Mom finally omitted the first course soup and we placed the salads directly on the dinner plates. They looked so pretty and became one of the last finishing touches before calling everyone to sit down.
Petit Pois (peas) seasoned with green onion, garlic and bacon were prepared; as were Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, yams simply glazed with some brown sugar, and cranberry sauce – both whole berry and jelly (these were the most American recipes on our table; American was defined as anything non-French looking, possibly from a can, sweetened, easily served and didn’t take much fuss.
Cheese, bread, coffee with brandy and a store-bought dessert ended the meal; homemade pies came much later once Bro married a gal who could really bake!
No course or detail was omitted when the aunts and uncles came over. The entire dinner was served on a linen table cloth, with matching linen napkins that Mom had “done up” herself, another expectation that she fulfilled having inherited the French Curtain Laundry gene too.
What is the ONLY reason to cook a turkey?
Leftovers… of course!
I remember the one Thanksgiving that Mom was rather relaxed in the kitchen. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. She even decided that we girls could help with the hors d’oeuvre plate and whatever we did to make the items look pretty would be okay.
Okay? This from the same mother who told me that the way I chopped carrots made her laugh?
I was starting to be concerned… Mom was smiling, laughing with us in HER kitchen, and whatever we did was OKAY???
Then it hit; no aunts or uncles were coming; we’d be just the immediate family this year.
Brat and I told Mom we liked her much better when the relatives weren’t going to have dinner with us; that she was much easier to be around. She took this all in, and didn’t even get angry. I think she realized just how much she had worked all those years and wasn’t even sure herself if she needed all the fuss to enjoy the day…that was a nice moment of awakening in Mom’s kitchen for us all.
Must be genetic; in true Rubberneck Avenue fashion, I have exhausted myself cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner. Mine is updated; no soup, a crab salad appetizer, some tweaks here and there. Oh yes; bread dressing a la Americaine.
So, I must console myself this Friday After with only leftovers … it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to keep up the family traditions…