I’d planned to blog about Thanksgiving dinner over a week ago, just after the Chili Bake recipes, but it was not to be. I’ve been through the wringer with a tooth infection under a bridge installed by my dentist back in 1988, an experience I’d prefer never to happen again. Suffice to say that I’ve lost one of the two teeth under that bridge and have not been in writing or eating mode most of the time since (hey- I lost about 6 pounds as a result- a little leverage for holiday snacking might be the only benefit to the whole mess!). To get back into the spirit, however, I decided this morning that providing readers with one of the simplest, sweetest and most favored (at least by me) of over a dozen(!) dishes served on Turkey Day would be a good start. More recipes will follow in future blogposts.
This year, unlike most, we decided to do dinner at home with just the four of us – Bill and me with adult offspring Kristen and Adrian. Most often in recent years, we’ve gone to brother George’s (his wife is Heidi), since they have a much larger home. They had other plans anyway, and we were happy to anticipate the best part of Thanksgiving: leftovers over the next few days. We were also invited to the home of one of Adrian’s friends for dessert, and I baked an awesome and new-to-me cake to contribute to that feast.
Memories of Thanksgivings past, of course, kept bubbling up as I stirred the cranberry sauce the day before the big meal, as well as throughout the holiday. Don’t we all have those tidbits of family and friends in the back of our minds as each holiday arrives?
When we were kids, we were part of a huge family gathering. Our mother was one of eight siblings and Grandma Boyd liked to get as many of them together as possible. I have vague memories of the cousins running amok in her and Grandpa’s small basement apartment on Hamilton Street in Albany and, in other years, between the two flats on the third floor on Central Avenue where Aunt Pat and Uncle Doug lived at #61 Central and we were at #63 (same building, across the hall from each other). In our place, the living room and dining room were what they’re calling today “open concept” and that’s where tables were put together for the feast. The meal included turkey, stuffing (always a sausage version, sometimes an oyster one too), gravy, mashed potatoes, and what we called turnips (but they were really rutabaga). There’d be other vegetables, most likely corn and/or peas or green beans, and creamed cauliflower (not really “creamed,” more like “in cream sauce”). I vaguely recall sweet potatoes making an occasional appearance but, at the time, you wouldn’t get me to touch them! And the pies: pumpkin, apple and George’s favorite, mincemeat.
In addition to the turkey, unlike most households on that day, another “meat” such as roast beef or lamb, always graced that table because our grandmother wouldn’t eat turkey! She always said that she’d grown up on a farm and saw what those “dirty birds” ate off the ground. She just couldn’t stomach it!
Another memory, probably after Gramma had passed away: Mom and Aunt Pat in our kitchen, trying to get the gravy to come together just right. I think Gramma was the gravy diva on Turkey Days past and, while they had certainly made gravies themselves before, this time it just wasn’t working. It would be too thin, so they’d add a slurry of water (or milk?) and flour. Too thick, so more water. In the end, it tasted more like flour-water than gravy but it was hot atop the stuffing and turkey, and not so bad with buttered potatoes.
In 1971, the Northeast got hit with one of the biggest Thanksgiving snowstorms in its history. My dad was in the Veterans Administration hospital, having had a stroke several weeks before (his final one, which would take him from us eventually, on Christmas Eve that year), and the plan was that we (Mom, brother Bill and I) would visit him and then go to Aunt Pat’s and Uncle Doug’s house for dinner. Several years before, they’d moved to a more spacious apartment on Elk Street, about six blocks from Mom and Dad’s. George was now married, and he and Sharon lived in Selkirk, south of Albany. I no longer lived at home but was spending the night with Mom and 13-year-old brother Bill. As the expression goes, “The best-laid plans of…” – there was no way we could safely get to the VA Hospital that day. We didn’t own a car, and taxi cabs either weren’t running or were running hours late. We called the desk on his floor and asked a nurse to let Dad know we couldn’t make it, and then decided we’d set out amidst the drifting snow, trudging up Central toward our dinner.
We were almost ready to turn back in less than 10 minutes when, lo and behold, one of the few cars driving up Central (in those days, usually a busy thoroughfare in the city, a shopping area in fact) stopped and the driver waved at us. It was Uncle Arch! Crazy, lovable Uncle Arch was out driving in that mess! I have no idea why he was buzzing through what would wind up being 22.5 inches of the white stuff (30 inches in some areas), but, as the three of us piled into the car, we were grateful he showed up! George and Sharon arrived at Aunt Pat’s a little while later, having decided to risk snow-filled roads because all they had to eat in the house was the pie they were contributing to the table fare! We didn’t stay late because of the storm, but it was probably one of the most appreciated Thanksgiving repasts we’d ever consumed!
There are other memories but it’s time to get on to this year, or I’ll be writing all day before the recipe gets posted. So here’s the menu, from a day whose weather was clear, bright, and above the average temperature (in the low 50s!):
Stuffing with turkey sausage, made with homemade croutons
Gravy (a little thin, but I wasn’t risking the flour-water possibility!)
Mashed Potato Casserole
Cauliflower in Cheesey Cream Sauce
From-Scratch Green Bean Casserole
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Beets
Buttered Peas and Carrots
Magic Chocolate Flan Cake (brought to Frank & Robin’s house for dessert)
Thanksgiving CakePops (Turkeys & Snowmen, made by Kristen, also brought to Frank’s)
Growing up, the only cranberry sauce I tasted was the “jellied” kind bought in a can at the local supermarket. Always Ocean Spray brand (store brands were less prevalent in those days). I was married several years before discovering there was something called whole-berry sauce, and I loved it. Imagine my delight when I first made it from scratch, rather than the canned version first ingested. As usual, I consulted several cookbooks and then made it my way (sounds like Frank Sinatra, doesn’t it, “I did it my way…”). Eventually, that recipe evolved into a cranberry-orange rendition. I’m not sure I even create it the same way every time, but this Thanksgiving I was adamantly scribbling ingredients and other info on yellow sticky notes as I made the entire meal (two days of cooking and baking)—so I now have this basic game plan for the next time I make this awesome condiment. Plus notes for a few more posts on KitchenCauldron.
Getting a little witchy (this blog is a cauldron, you know), you might like to know that, according to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications), the “sourness of cranberries makes them an ideal protective food.” Cunningham notes that these berries are native to North America and Europe. He says, they were “eaten by Indians long before being introduced to the Pilgrims.” I’m thinking it’s not just the sourness that would point to cranberries’ protective energy. There’s something about their deep red hue that speaks of strength to me. After all, aren’t red and orange foods supposed to be rich in nutrients? Food science tells us there’s the carotenoid called lycopene in the reds (especially good for prostate health) and oranges contain beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body (supporting the immune system, promoting bone growth, and regulating cell growth and division). Sure sounds protective to me.
So let’s get on to a recipe for good health, albeit one of many one might indulge in on an over-indulgent holiday. (This is also especially great when prepared the day before – convenient, so lower stress, ergo better for you too!)
SWEET ‘N’ TANGY CRANBERRY-ORANGE SAUCE
Yields a couple cups (with extra juice to freeze for later use!)
- 24 oz. bag cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1½ cups sugar (have a bit more available, in case needed)
- zest of 2 oranges
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)
- up to ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (or less, if preferred, & I prefer fresh-ground nutmeg)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- juice of ½ orange (or substitute juice from small can of mandarin oranges)
- juice of ½ lemon
- 2 oranges, peeled, each section cut into 2 or 3 pieces (or use equivalent in canned mandarin oranges)
- In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring cranberries and all other ingredients except for orange sections to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until all berries seem to have popped and sauce begins to thicken a bit.
- Add orange sections and let simmer another couple minutes.
- Taste for desired sweetness. Stir in extra sugar, if desired.
- If the sauce doesn’t thicken to your preference, you can choose to use a slurry of the juice and a bit of corn starch to aid the process, but it’s just as good without being too dense. (I froze extra juice, with a plan to use it in a future pork tenderloin recipe, as yet to be concocted.)