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There’s never been a better time for Thanksgiving — even two weeks late

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I chop five large onions, handfuls of Italian parsley, fresh sage and three cups of celery, including the feathery fronds.

I scrape all of this into the butter already sizzling in the iron skillet, with one eye on the clock.

I have a problem. The bird needs to go into the oven, but the stuffing isn't ready.

A crowd will arrive in five hours. Will we have 20 people? Or 50? I'm not entirely sure. I kept inviting friends because there are so many people who've helped us this year. I figure we might run out of forks but we won't run out of food and this is a more-the-merrier feast.

If Mr Turkey gets cooked in time, that is. I consult my mother's recipe for guidance.

Grannykins' words

My mum's instructions come in the form of a letter from her mother, my Grannykins, dated November 20. My grandmother doesn't include the year. This is apt because the advice is timeless. And because I'm holding this traditional celebration nearly two weeks late.

I picture my mum as a raven-haired young wife, nervously preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner. It's a daunting meal when the centrepiece is expensive poultry and weighs nine kilos.

The letter begins:

Dear Annabelle,
You really have me in a spot when it comes to tell you about cooking a turkey. I just do it in my sleep, as it were.

I feel better already. Reading this letter is a favourite annual ritual. The original is in my mother's battered recipe book in Richmond, Virginia. It has been used dozens of times over the years, with stains clearly visible on the photocopy.

Grannykins didn't get frazzled. I see her twinkly brown eyes and hear her chuckle as I read:

When you stuff your bird, you should salt the inside first. I often forget. Don't worry. Almost every time, people say it's the best turkey yet.

What would Grannykins do in my current predicament, I wonder?

Her letter provides a clue:

I always stuff both ends, although some books say no, it takes longer to cook.

In other words, Grannykins trusted her own judgment. I will, too.

I put the turkey in the oven, stuffed with fresh herbs and a pierced lemon, and basted with butter. The stuffing will just have to go in once it's ready.

The migrant's feast

The fragrant kitchen triggers a flood of memories.

My grandmother Jean Sutherland survived a riches-to-rags childhood. The Great Depression meant she went to work instead of university. She was considered an "Old Maid" when she met and married Bill Marple at 30. They had five children; my mother was the eldest.

Grannykins was unsentimental and intolerant of whining. She was also warm and generous and fun and pragmatic.

She would understand my decision to delay our celebration of America's most important holiday to accommodate Australia's inconvenient school exam timetable. She'd be horrified at what I paid for the turkey ($140!) but approve of the decision to mark the occasion.

Pumpkin pie

We pass on our history with our stories, our traditions, and our recipes.

It feels right to host an American Thanksgiving in Australia. It's the quintessential migrant's feast.

By family consensus, my mother, Anne, is the best of a stellar mob of pastry-making siblings. This is always her job for the big family dinner, whether the extended family gathers in Massachusetts or Virginia.

My older daughter and her friends make the pies this year, in our home overlooking the Wombat State Forest in the Macedon Ranges. They lean over the bowl, breathing in the aroma of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. One girl licks batter from the spoon and grimaces.

The birth of Thanksgiving

Sweet pumpkin is strange to Australian tastebuds, which is understandable. But it's important to remember that this is feast food. A celebration of survival.

As every American school child knows, the Pilgrims arrived in what we now call Massachusetts in 1620 aboard the Mayflower, fleeing religious persecution. They must have looked truly daggy to the locals — dressed in black and white, like crows, the men wearing those silly hats and buckled shoes.

The Pilgrims were not the most practical of people. In his book Made in America, humourist and historian Bill Bryson notes that the Pilgrims:

"Found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet, and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. Yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line."

Many Pilgrims died during the first winter and others would have suffered the same fate had it not been for the Native Americans, especially Samoset and Tisquantum, whom they called "Squanto."

Squanto, a Pawtuxet, had years earlier survived being kidnapped by an English adventurer and sold into slavery in Spain. Somehow, he'd made his way back to North America. He must have been a truly forgiving soul, for he acted as the Pilgrim's translator with the nearby Wampanoag people.

Thanks to indigenous generosity and know-how, the immigrants survived.

In November of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated a successful harvest and thanked the Wampanoag with a big feast. This was the first American Thanksgiving.

The holiday gained official national status under President Lincoln during the bleak days of the Civil War.

What's on the menu?

Exactly what was on that first menu is the subject of vigorous debate. The "sweet" might have been a hasty pudding.

Or not. But it's generally accepted that the crowd dined on turkey, venison, eels, fish, squashes, fruits and berries.

Foods from the Americas. The Pilgrims would have used precious sugar and spices and their own recipes to interpret, improvise and create special dishes.

The time-honoured American Thanksgiving dinner includes turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, peas or beans, cranberry sauce, and of course stuffing. But there are as many variations as there are families.

A sweet potato casserole with berries on top.

The letter tells me a lot about my Grannykins. She clearly knew the pressures of being a busy mum. After detailed explanations including cooking times for various sizes of turkey and how to make a cranberry sauce from scratch, she adds:

*and frozen peas or frozen beans. Something has to be easy.

In those long-ago days before cheap phone calls, much less the internet, my grandmother also kept mum up to date on local gossip — humorously acknowledging her own Yankee snobbishness:

News item. Mary Lou V — ran off and got married — age fifteen. The South has nothing on us.

The feast arrives

Back in our home on Saturday, the turkey is bronzed, stuffing finished. The pumpkin and pecan pies have a sugary sheen. The table is set. My girls and their friends nearly asphyxiated polishing Grannykins' tarnished silver, but it glows in the candlelight.

My mum's Broderie anglaise tablecloth is set with crystal and china from my family and that of my Australian husband.

The bouquet of grevilleas and proteas from an Aussie friend is perfect.

The guests arrive. They number more than 50, as it turns out. We run out of both forks and turkey.

No-one minds. There is ample food and drink, both that which we've provided and that brought by Australian family and friends.

Our guests include several people I've never met who speak with foreign accents different to my own. I like this very much. It's a Thanksgiving tradition.

Thanksgiving Turkey generic

Together in our new home

I look around the room and think about being a migrant. About being far from so many people I love, especially during holidays. About embracing the thrill of a new life in a peaceful new land.

I think of the comfort of old traditions and the freedom to reinterpret them.

I think about generous strangers who ease the path and become dear friends.

And I think any challenge I've faced is nothing compared to the misery of a would-be migrant caught in endless exile with no land to call home.

I look around at our guests. Several are fresh off a plane from Germany. Others have families who have been here for generations and several friends are Indigenous. Their ancestors lived on this continent 60,000 years ago.

I think about indigenous peoples, both here in Australia and in the United States. About history.

About how our cherished traditions don't hold all the answers to right all the wrongs of the past nor solve all the crises of the present.

But I also know this.

When we come together to share a feast and conversation, to laugh and get to know each other, to pause and be thankful, good things can happen.

This is why I host Thanksgiving.

From mother to daughter

One of my daughter's friends has converted. She likes pumpkin pie. Grannykins would have been tickled pink. My immigrant's feast in Australia is anchored by her recipes — recipes sent to her daughter, who gave them to me, to give to my girls, to give to their children.

I read the final words of that old letter:

We'll be thinking of you. Wish you were here.

Luf, Mom

Original Article

The post There's never been a better time for Thanksgiving — even two weeks late appeared first on News Wire Now.

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