Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. One of the reasons I have such a fondness for this particular time of year, is because its main focus is on food. Plump roasted turkey, stuffing with fresh sage, mashed potatoes (with plenty of heavy cream and butter) and green bean casserole with French-fried onions are a few of my favorite things. And the desserts… an extensive selection of pies; pumpkin, apple, cherry and chocolate mousse are the perfect finales to a delicious and hearty meal.
When I was a kid, my parents would get an early start on the meal- my father was in charge of the turkeys and gravy, and my mom would create the sides. My parents would work diligently, planning everything in advance so that the meal could be served on-time. The work that ensued was methodical and purposeful, like a rehearsed dance that was perfectly choreographed.
My dad made two turkeys every year, one in the oven, and another on his Weber grill. He would clarify butter for both birds, and inject the butter-fat into the breasts of the turkeys every half hour until they reached temperature. The gravy was next.
“You can never run out of gravy,” my father told me.
The drippings from the turkey pans were placed in a large soup pot with unbleached flour, spices and butter. This is when the whisk made its first appearance; my dad was a master with this particular tool. His hand would become blurry as he worked the flour-fat mixture to avoid lumps. I liked this part, and was always impressed at my father’s ability to create the perfect roux. The stock was added next, with additional seasonings and viola, perfect gravy… and plenty of it.
In another area of the kitchen my mom was busy with the stuffing.
“You’re making it the old way, right?” My older sister was always concerned that my mom would experiment with the traditional recipe by adding raisins, prunes, or nuts.
By the time all of the food made it to the table our mouths were watering. My father appeared with his razor-sharp slicer, and began cutting the turkey with surgical precision. The first cut was always the most exciting- as the sharp knife slid through the breast, we watched as beads of luscious clarified butter flowed from the meat. As he continued to dismantle the bird, we began to fill our plates with all of the delicious accompaniments.
Although the food was heart-warming and delicious, my favorite part of Thanksgiving was sitting with my family. During dinner, we would share stories, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. Even after dinner, and as we cleared plates, we would continue to laugh and carrying on.
I no longer get to spend Thanksgiving with my entire family. My parents have divorced, and my father lives on the west coast. One of my older sisters lives in Boston and celebrates the holiday with her two daughters and husband. I usually spend Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s house in Pennsylvania with extended family, and my mother and sister. The food is amazing, and a fun time is always had by all. A small amount of sadness exists for what once was, but it’s important to create new memories and move forward. It’s also crucial this time of year to be grateful for the abundance in our lives as there are so many who are doing without.
Take time this holiday season and let the people you care about know how much you love and appreciate them.
Eat turkey, be merry and have a very happy Thanksgiving.
Chef Chuck Kerber