Saturday, 5 December 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I have to confess to having been so busy talking, ferrying food and coats and, eventually, eating that I completely forgot to take any pictures. Never mind, it looked very much the same as last year. The menu was the same and our guests were the usual suspects, plus or minus a few.

As usual, I got several requests for recipes and rather than type them out every year, I thought I'd make sure they were on here.

Turkey – These days they often come self basted, which means the oil has to be skimmed off the juice if using for gravy. We've used gravy powder for so long, this just isn't an issue. As a child I preferred the dark meat, finding white meat quite dry. Over the years of serving Thanksgiving dinner to between 20 and 45 people, I’ve learned that if you’re not ‘presenting’ the turkey at the table it doesn’t matter how it looks coming out of the oven; in which case, cooking the bird breast side down results in much juicier white meat. Mom and Grandmother used to stuff their turkeys, but I never bother.

Dressing - I’ve always made this in such large quantities that it is difficult to say what would be a sensible amount to make. The main thing is the proportion of ingredients to one another and making it moist enough to go down easy. I watched Mom and Grandmother make this every year, but never noted any recipe. After they were both gone, I experimented with recipes in books and substituted cornbread for bread until I came up with this combination that I think tastes pretty much like what they made. It is ridiculously high in calories, mind.

  • Make cornbread. It keeps in the fridge for several days, so it can be made a bit ahead of time if needed.
  • Chop and cook one cup each of onion and celery in butter until tender.
  • Make 2 cups chicken stock from stock cubes and add a lump of butter.
  • Tear up 4 cups of stale bread into bite sized pieces. I prefer wheat or brown to white, but any or a combination will do.
  • Mix 4 cups of crumbled cornbread, 4 cups of bread pieces and 2 cups of fried vegetables.
  • Add about 2 cups of chicken stock gradually, stirring and mashing the wetted breads to make a moist but not wet mixture.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Heat through in the microwave or place uncovered in the oven with the turkey to make a nice crusty top.
  • Freezes well. Freeze in small containers to save yourself the calories.

Fruit Salad - Mom always made this at Thanksgiving and only then. I think I actually made this a couple of times under her instructions so it wasn’t as difficult to reproduce as the dressing. It sounds a weird combination, but tastes really good. It is tangy as much as sweet and we ate it as a side dish, not a dessert. Again, my large measures are strange, but this probably won’t last long and if you use low fat mayonnaise, it’s not an unhealthy dish.

  • 2 cups of banana slices
  • 2 cups of partly peeled and cored red apples; you want rid of the toughness of the apple peel, but I like to leave a little red for the colour
  • 1 tin of mandarin orange sections, well drained
  • Perhaps 2-4 large serving spoons of mayonnaise (I use the light stuff as a rule)
  • Stir mayonnaise in spoonful at a time, adding just enough to coat all the fruit. Eat within a day or two.

Pumpkin Pie
(from 1986 edition of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook)

Pastry for 8-9 inch pie:
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening
1 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Either use pastry cutter (which I find useless) or two knifes cross-cutting in opposite directions to cut the shortening into the flour. You want pea-sized lumps of shortening or smaller. The recipe says to sprinkle cold water one spoon at a time into the mixture whilst tossing with a fork. The aim is to just moisten the flour mix well enough that it almost cleans the sides of the bowl and forms a ball in the middle. I found I needed more like 4-5 tablespoons and that after the first couple it paid to begin mashing the fork into the mix to stick it together.

The best tip I found to help with making pastry was to put a cotton tea towel on the bench and sprinkle with flour. Also, wrap another tea towel around the rolling pin and sprinkle that with flour. It sounds awkward, but it does work well. I gather they make cloth covers for rolling pins, but I’ve not come across them. (There is a possible craft idea, Jane!) Apparently the flour on the cloth doesn’t get absorbed into the pastry and make it tougher. Flour your hands as well. Keep the shortening cool so it doesn’t become any stickier. I never remember to put on an apron before I’m covered with flour, but perhaps you might.

Roll out pastry into a circle that is 2 inches wider than the inverted pie pan. Fold pastry into quarters to pick up and place in pie plate. Trim to one inch overhang and tuck under to form the crust edge. My grandmother always pressed the tines of a fork around the edges as decoration. Pierce the bottom of the pie with the fork to keep it from bubbling up when cooking.

Pumpkin filling

The supermarkets around here don’t sell pumpkin in cans, so we buy the whole things around Halloween and put them in the garage where it is cool, or on the front porch to decorate it a bit. Some weekend approaching Thanksgiving, Bill goes out and ‘kills’ a pumpkin. It’s fairly hard work sawing through the rind. We have tried but never developed a taste for toasted pumpkin seeds, so the seeds and strings go into the compost. The growing season here isn’t long enough to get a decent pumpkin out of the garden (We shall see what are the results of seeds in the compost...). Bill peels and cuts up the meat of the pumpkin, then steams and mashes it. There is a lot of water in pumpkin and so it needs to be well drained. We either freeze or refrigerate the cooked pumpkin.

About this time of year we fire up the refrigerator in the garage, one that came from Bill’s mom’s house in West Denton. We used to use it year round, but decided it was silly for two people to ‘need’ two fridges. It is old and not energy efficient and so I started only using it over the holidays and turning it off in January after consolidating the contents into the kitchen fridge. This year when we went to turn it on, the door wouldn’t shut. Bill worked out that the rubber seal was malfunctioning and we didn’t have time to do proper repairs.

Instead, Bill tried one of the large wrought iron gates that was removed from back entrance to the yard when we had the brickwork done last month. When leaned against the front door of the fridge it was heavy enough to hold it shut. That would suffice, along with the very cold temperature in the garage, to keep the food sufficiently cold for a day or two. The freezer door still works fine. When I was a child my parents didn’t have the cash to replace a malfunctioning appliance out of pocket and so I have lived with peculiar door closing mechanisms before. I was thinking Saturday that an antique wrought iron gate was so much more elegant than duct tape and a wire coat hanger, don't you agree? So, the recipe:

2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 can (or 12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 can (or 16 ounces) pumpkin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Mix it all together.

I mix it in a bowl to start but then feed quantities through the blender to make the mix smoother. One could blend the cooked pumpkin before mixing, but I tend to want every opportunity to let it drain. If you find tinned pumpkin, which is quite smooth, this last step is unnecessary.

Pour into the pastry shells. Cook 15 minutes at 425 F (220 C) and then 45 minutes at 350 F (175 C). Bake until knife inserted comes out clean. If serving cold, refrigerate at least 4 hours.

In the States, pumpkin pie is traditionally served cold, with whipped cream on top. I never liked pumpkin pie as a child, and truth be told I still can’t eat very much of it, finding it quite rich, even when I use low fat evaporated milk. I found I like it much better warm and so that is how we serve it at the party, warm – but with whipped cream as well, of course!

You can use mashed sweet potatoes and probably mashed carrots and get much the same results. Like most members of the squash family, pumpkin doesn’t actually have much flavour. The taste of pumpkin pie therefore is mainly from the other ingredients. I have substituted part of the pumpkin with sweet potatoes one year in an emergency, but most years feel obligated to provide the genuine article so that people experience a ‘Real American Thanksgiving’ meal.


Rick Stone said...

WHAT ARE YOU THINKING WOMAN? Suggesting to use anything in the place of duct tape? Duct tape is the wonder of the modern world. A roll of duct tape, a bundle of baler wire/twine and a guy should be able to fix anything.

Seriously, it sounds like you showed the Brits another great American tradition. Glad your party went over well. BTW, you should hit Jo up for his pumpkin pie recipe. It's made with the cook whip mixed right in somehow and is very light and fluffy. Not like the regular pumpkin pie but is really good. (Like you, I'm not crazy about regular pumpkin pie.)

Shelley said...

OK, I'll bite. What is the recipe that uses Cool Whip, Joanne? Mind, they don't have Cool Whip over here either, but I did find a powder that can be mixed up for similar results...