It seems like just yesterday, we were in the throes of a Georgia heatwave, yet here we are — planning the lastminute culinary details of our Thanksgiving day feasts. A few years ago, our family adopted a potluck model for the day — all of us bringing one or two covered dishes to contribute to the table. Now we coordinate what everyone is baking and
concocting, so that ten desserts don’t arrive with no sides to eat with them.
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Our modern Thanksgivings are a timeless fusion of flavors that tell stories and make everyone’s taste buds happy. Here’s what I know will grace the table this week.
Mom will cook the turkey. She bought it last week — a big Butterball from the Food Lion in Reidsville. She’ll get up early in the morning and remember to yank out the giblet pouch from the turkey’s cavity. She’ll sprinkle an ample amount of salt and pepper on Tom’s skin. Then Mom will stuff that big bird in a Reynolds Kitchens oven bag (we call it a “brownin’ bag”), shove it in the oven, and set the kitchen timer. It’ll cook for hours and fill Mom’s house with the unforgettable aroma of roasted poultry.
“I have to do the turkey, because I need the drippings to flavor my dressing,” Mom says. “The drippings make the dressing.”
Mom’s comment is a perfect segue to the next menu item — Mom’s famous cornbread dressing. Mom’s dressing is a delicious concoction of Pepperidge Farm cornbread crumbs, rice, boiled eggs, bell pepper, onion, celery, Cream of Chicken soup, turkey drippings, garlic salt and Watkins ground black pepper. She doesn’t really measure anything. She just mixes it until her “arm falls off” and “it looks about right.” It’s a mouthwatering masterpiece when she’s done with it, and we all savor it, especially drizzled with giblet gravy.
My brother, Andy, RS VPed this week noting that he will bring both a mess of mustard greens, fresh from his bountiful Bonaire garden, and his fiancé, Michele, who plans to bring her world famous kale salad with a “special” dressing. Intriguing! I can’t wait to try it.
My sister, Audrey, has two signature dishes she prepares for most of our Thanksgivings. She makes a sweet potato soufflé that’s simply to die for with a velvety texture and a harmonious blend of natural sweetness, warm spices, and slightly crunchy pecan topping. Oh my goodness! Her second dish is something she calls cranberry salad. It’s congealed, and yeah, some people are funny about congealed foods, but this stuff is drop dead delicious. It’s sweet and tangy and crunchy, thanks to the cranberries, celery, and pecans suspended in the gelatin, like insects suspended in amber for millions of years.
I’m in charge of green beans this year, which is pretty easy. I’ve made green bean casseroles in the past, but our family members are purists, and they prefer the simplicity of freshly cut green beans boiled in a pot with just a hambone and some salt.
I’m also browning some brown-and-serve rolls and tossing together a pretty pasta salad with bow-tie pasta, feta cheese, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, purple onions, and a tangy dressing made from vinegar, lemon juice, honey, mustard, oregano, parsley and olive oil. I usually make macaroni and cheese from scratch for our niece, Andrea, but she won’t be able to make it this year, so I’ve pivoted to a pasta salad.
Savannah and Tommy will drive down from Atlanta and arrive a few hours before we sit down to eat. They will bring an undisclosed green vegetable with them, but not to worry. They are great cooks. They shared a jar of their jalapeño cucumber refrigerator pickles with us in August, and we devoured them.
Alex has also RSVPed, and he is in charge of one of the most important elements of the day — shepherding his three little Laniers safely to my mother’s Ohoopee home. They are an integral part of the festivities.
Finally, we’ll have super dense pecan pie (my Grandmother Jarriel’s recipe, made from pecans my cousins grow) and a dessert my family fondly calls “Mom’s green congealed stuff.” It isn’t an appetizing color or consistency, but make no mistake, it is heavenly, and we stuff it in our mouths like our plane is going down.
We will gather. We will say a blessing. We will pile our plates high with delicious Thanksgiving day fare. We will eat and talk about how good everything is. And yes, we know the day isn’t about the feast. It’s about the fellowship — the loved ones seated around the table.
And we will laugh. We will love. We will linger. And then we will clean the kitchen and flop down on sofas and recliners, and some will take a nap while others watch football. Most of all, we will be thankful, because Thanksgiving is about reaching deep down inside and finding the gratitude that should fill our hearts each and every day. That’s our Thanksgiving in a nutshell, and that’s what’s on our menu this year, and every year.
What’s on your menu?