Turkey tales

How will Salon readers celebrate Thanksgiving? By jetting off to Paris, camping in the woods, tucking into buckets of KFC, and eating -- gulp -- tuna and cheese grits.

Published November 26, 2003 5:41PM (EST)

Holiday lard

Dairy-free? Wheat-free? Tofurkey?

Here in the South, we believe firmly in one tradition: lard. Yes, politically incorrect as it may be these days, there will be no faux-pumpkin pie or sugar-free cranberry sauce. Oh, no, no -- that, my friends, is one of the worst kinds of sacrilege. Not only will white sugar be used heavily, but brown sugar, dark and light, will be used too. The gravy will be made from that morning's bacon drippings. And butter -- real, honest to god, sweet cream butter -- will be used for the yeast rolls fresh out of the oven. We will boil potatoes in chicken broth and whip them with more butter and heavy cream. What else? Oh! The whipped cream for the pumpkin pie -- stiff peaks formed out of heavy whipping cream and a bit of pure molasses.

Yes, indeedy. This year, I'll be giving thanks for good ol' fashioned Southern traditions.

-- Melissa

Turkey Day Down Under

Last year my entire Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a box of cornbread stovetop stuffing.

No, I'm not homeless: I live in Australia.

Because T-day falls in late spring here, the season is all wrong. The last time I cooked an entire turkey dinner, it was over 90 degrees. Imagine being alone in a stiflingly hot kitchen with no air conditioning. Imagine making a weekday feast for folks who will then sit around the table and complain about how selfish and stupid Americans are.

This has always bummed me out because, let's face it, T-day is the best holiday of them all. From my earliest days of childhood I've loved it because it was something we all enjoyed as our American birthright.

I'm an international immigration lawyer. I've met refugees at the airport in New York on Wednesday of the week before Thanksgiving, and by the following Thursday, they had prepared their turkey -- to be served with kasha or injera or mamaliga cu brinza. Thanksgiving is the superhighway into American-ness. For 364 days out of the year, you can be a stalwart of whatever national identity you wish, but on the last Thursday in November, you're automatically an American, simply by serving a turkey and some form of stuffing. Even a turkey TV dinner will do in a pinch, as it did more than once while I was in college.

So this year, despite a brand new baby and the accompanying exhaustion, forecast temperatures of over 85 degrees, and an almost fully non-American guest list, I'll be making my grandmother's pre-Civil War recipe for turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato pudding, and three kinds of potatoes. And for dessert, instead of pumpkin pie, I'll serve the most Australian of delicacies: a pavlova, a frilly summertime confection of a meringue base, topped with a layer of whipped cream, berries, kiwi and passion fruit spread all over. My friends and I may not agree on American politics, but we can all agree that a pav is always perfect.

-- Michelle Stein-Evers

Just add booze

We have this every year at my house. It's called Mélange o' Jive Turkeys.


1 carnivorous, overeducated, anti-feminist father with ultra-conservative views.

1 confrontational radical feminist sister who eats only red meat, kale, and miso.

1 new boyfriend, vegetarian, who's recently participated in an anti-corporate protest.

1 ankle-biting, emotionally neglected cat.

1 distant cousin who has decided to use this Thanksgiving to meet his/her relatives.

1 mother who constantly finds things to do in the kitchen to take her away from the conversation at the table.

1 single family friend who shows up at family dinners at least once a week.

1 brother who makes more money than everyone at the table combined, in case you've forgotten.

1 Wagner, Philip Glass, or some equally painful music selection.

1 turkey, suddenly glad that it's dead.

1 self.

Douse liberally in scotch and red wine. Resist urge to set on fire. Serve cold.

-- Anonymous

Chicken or beef?

Airplane food.

That's what I'll be eating this Thanksgiving. My boyfriend of two years broke up with me a few Fridays ago, so the morning after I booked a cheap ticket to Paris. I fly out at 4:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

As I board the plane my family will be 200 miles away. My aunt will be cooking dinner this year, her first as a married woman. I will think of them drinking good red wine and eating great loads of great food as I sample Air Canada's version of "chicken-or-beef," trying to lose my troubles and looking for the twinkling lights of the Greenland coastline through the cloud cover.

Maybe that morning I'll make myself a breakfast of eggs and turkey hash, to celebrate the day.

-- Kate Hagerty

Gambling, gringos and a deep-fried dinner

My husband and I recently moved to New York and have decided to spend Thanksgiving with my mother and two brothers in Atlantic City, N.J. Yes, that's right -- casinos, campy shows, prostitutes, the whole nine yards.

My mother is what I call a "crazy Puerto Rican." No doubt, this Thanksgiving will be spent listening to salsa really loud, drinking rum on the rocks and trying to get my "gringo" husband to dance with my mom.

Our tummies will be full of deep-fried turkey, arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans, a Puerto Rican staple), fried plantains, and sauerkraut (a nod to my husband's Baltimore roots).

As much as I'm looking forward to baking the traditional pumpkin pie, I can't wait to tuck into a nice, large helping of homemade flan washed down with coquito (Puerto Rican coconut eggnog).

Some people have to leave their hometown, or even their home state to experience a taste of diversity. For my husband and my family it's right on the dining room table.

-- Anonymous

The Colonel's secret Thanksgiving recipe

The week before our much-anticipated Thanksgiving Day feast at my Grandmother McNutt's home, the word came. The Petit Jean ham that had, every year past, been lovingly wrapped in tin foil and placed in the oven hours ahead of the dinner, would not be. The brown beans, sorted, washed and soaked, would not stain the crockpot. Cornbread would not brown to a crisp at the edges and pull away from the baking pan. The crust of the karo nut pie with all its syrupy goodness would not flake on the tablecloth. Painstakingly embroidered with the names of family members living and dead, the tablecloth would not even grace the old brown kitchen table. The old brown laminated kitchen table would not bear the weight of the feast that always sprang from my granny's arthritic yet capable hands each Thanksgiving.

The word came straight from my grandmother's mouth. There could be no mistake. There could be no doubt. A new man would be cooking our Thanksgiving feast. Granny had a brand new bag -- and that bag boasted a KFC logo. The Colonel was coming to Thanksgiving Day dinner.

I sat silently across the kitchen table from Granny as she blasphemed. She was speaking of our Thanksgiving Day dinner as if it was any dinner of the year. My head was light. I felt dizzy. I couldn't focus on the KFC menu that she had thrust under my hanging head.

In my head, I shouted, "You can't! Grandfather McNutt (Pa Pa) has barely been in the grave for two years. I need this normalcy. I need you to be the same. I need my Petit Jean baked ham and karo nut pie, old woman. Don't you understand?!"

Everything else in my life had changed -- divorce, new home, new job, new hair. My grandfather with his unfiltered Camels and thick black coffee was gone. I just needed one thing to remain the same. For one day out of the entire year, I just needed to sit down to a plate of my Granny's lard-laden Thanksgiving fare and eat with reckless abandon.

Calmly, I suggested that she should order whatever she wished from KFC. Outwardly, I didn't question her decision to have KFC cater our Thanksgiving Day dinner. I didn't question her motives. I didn't question her taste buds. Nothing I said or did would change her German-engineered mind. I calmly accepted my fate, even as my innards churned violently. I did this for a very good reason. Despite the fact that I'm 30-ish and my granny is a bit older, to this day she would box my jaws if I dared sass her. So, as I left, I hugged my granny, never letting on that anything was wrong.

Somehow, my car ended up at my parents' farm. I was still shaken and dazed. I fumbled for the words to tell my mother about the Thanksgiving travesty that had befallen the family. The words would not come. It didn't matter. She already knew. She would be taking Granny to the KFC to pick up our holiday fodder on Wednesday.

I smiled patiently and corrected my mother, "You mean Thursday." No, she didn't mean Thursday. No, they'd be pickin' up our vittles on Wednesday and then we could warm up the food on Thursday.

The whole business was beginning to stick in my craw. I had had it up to my goozle with the whole mess. I looked at my mother with craziness in my eyes. "Granny can't do this," I said. "It's wrong. I won't go. I will not go to Grandmother McNutt's for Thanksgiving." I didn't say anything else. Neither did my mother. She knew as well as I did that it was an empty threat. I would go. I would make nice. I would eat my day-old drumstick as if it were a big chunk of moist, warm baked Petit Jean ham. I didn't have to like it. But I damn sure better pretend to like it. Otherwise, I'd get my damn jaws boxed.

And so, the day came. I rolled out of bed and into the liquor cabinet. From the cabinet's depths I pulled a bottle of Old Charter. I tucked the bottle in my bag and left to go to my grandmother's house. I came back to my house a few minutes later, put on my clothes and brushed my teeth. OK, I wasn't that scatterbrained, but I was razzle-dazzled. Who can blame me?

Sure, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for that which we are thankful. Thanksgiving is about family and friends. It's about being with people you care about. However, I would contend that when a large portion of the fast-food eating masses decide -- en masse, no less -- to forgo cold cuts for a day in favor of a large chunk of beast, be it turkey, ham, duck, opossum or guinea fowl, then maybe, just maybe, Thanksgiving is also about the food.

I spent the day in a whiskey-altered state of warmth and happiness. I wasn't knee-walking drunk, mind you. Had I been obviously intoxicated, Granny would have given me a good talkin' to. I would have received the versatile lecture that can be tailored to fit sins and vices of all shapes and sizes. It always began with, "Now, hon, this is Granny talkin'," and ended with, "Do you want to spend your eternity surrounded by hellfire and brimstone?"

"What is brimstone?" I always wanted to ask. But that question would have resulted in another jaw-boxing, so I refrained.

No one save Bub and Sug, my younger brothers, knew that my soda held the secret to my good-natured attitude. They would never dare rat me out, for, you see, their soda held the magic elixir as well. Thankfully, the day ended without incident.

The next day I crawled from my burrow just long enough to go to the Kroger. I needed supplies. After the KFC incident, I needed to balance my inner spirit. My karma was all out of whack. I needed chocolate ice cream. For good measure, I also picked up a six-pack of beer.

Walking to the front of the store, I looked at my fellow shoppers. They were all cheerful and happy with big smiles on their faces. In their glaring grins, I could just make out the bits of ham and turkey still stuck between their teeth from yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner. One man even had the gall to brush away a bit of flaky pie crust that was nestled on the front of his overstuffed shirt. My scowl turned to a pout and I marched even faster to the front of the store. Bastards! Nothing but a bunch of karo-nut-pie and turkey-munching bastards. They were mocking me with their big bellies and their shiny, lard-nourished pelts. I averted my eyes and fled to the cashier's counter.

Well, there's always Christmas. Probably have Taco Bell. That reminds me, I'm out of whiskey.

-- Kimberly G. Allison

A very fishy Thanksgiving

Some of my earliest memories are of bustling, crowded Thanksgiving dinners. Walking into my uncle's grand Southern antebellum house, I marveled at the columns and the scores of people I didn't know I was related to. There were enough guests attending that I had to wear patent leather shoes; it also meant that the kids' table was far away from the adults, so I didn't have to eat one bite of the spinach that someone managed to get on my plate.

I remember mounds of dryish turkey, cranberry molds, small hot buttery rolls that folded over to look like a busted lip. I remember orange "casseroles" to be avoided at all costs, with toasted marshmallows on top of the orange goo that we small folk would scrape away before the adults arrived at the serving table. I do not, in particular, remember fish.

In 1982, my grandfather passed away, and the dynamics of family politics left a much smaller group of us gathering, this time at our house. This meant that I had to eat the creamed spinach, but I also got away with wearing a sweatshirt.

Over the past 20 years, at various times the table has dwindled to six and swelled to a dozen. We've had Republicans, Democrats, teachers, writers, road-kill enthusiasts, Yankees -- you name it. I thought we'd seen it all.

And then my sister, Margaret, decided to bring home her boyfriend.

Amir is a good guy. Quiet, kind, thoughtful, tall ... and kosher. The last thing he wants to do is bring attention to himself. So, I'm guessing he won't appreciate the fact that my mom has revised the Thanksgiving menu on his behalf.

When Mom found out that Amir was coming for Thanksgiving, she called Barbara Bernstein, one of the seven Jews in Knoxville, Tenn. From what I gather, Barbara was thrilled to fill my mother in on what Amir could eat -- meat or dairy, but not both at the same time. And, incidentally, on why Amir's mother wasn't going to like Margaret -- she's not Israeli and she's a shiksa! My mom, for her part, started working on the Thanksgiving menu.

How we wound up with tuna instead of turkey, I'm not positive. I think it has something to do with the fact that Mom wants Amir to be able to enjoy the cheese grits. Lord knows, nothing goes with cheese grits like tuna.

And unless I want to go back to patent leather shoes, I guess I'm going to have to get on board. My family has always been good at adapting to new circumstances, and this is just another example. Of course, no one should expect me to eat the leftovers.

-- Allison Page

Freeze-dried dinner

In the past, I've made enormous feasts in my dingy apartment for all my friends -- the food set out on milk crates, the guests crammed onto my ugly green velvet sofa. Last year, I roasted a goose for a small gathering of family, served with a startlingly good pinot noir, with a centerpiece for the table made of hundreds of tiny flowers I had meticulously carved from carrots. Carrots!

This year, however, I'm changing it up. I have a husband and an 18-month-old daughter whom I cook for nearly every day. I also have a love of backpacking that is too infrequently indulged. So, for Thanksgiving I am driving eight hours from Austin to Big Bend National Park and setting up camp somewhere within its borders. The menu for Thanksgiving Day? Freeze-dried turkey stew, reconstituted mashed potatoes, and a handful of sweetened, dried cranberries. And a long, happy, satisfied sigh as I plan the next day's hike.

-- Alexandria Mueller

By Salon Staff

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