TT: Not Just “Turkey Day”

For discussions of sex and nudity, go back one page to my Wednesday Wandering, then join me and Alan for the warmth and joy of Thanksgiving Day.

ALAN: Since you are celebrating Thanksgiving  today, can you tell me just what

Our Kettle Grill

it is that you are giving thanks for?

JANE: The short version is that the Pilgrims, some of the original settlers in the New England region, decided to throw a harvest festival and invite a bunch of the local Indians who had helped them to survive those first hard years.

The historical reality is, of course, a whole lot more complicated and constantly being revised.  In fact, some more radical Native American groups have tried to stop Thanksgiving as an official holiday because they feel celebrating the beginning of invasion and, in some cases, genocide is sick.

My feeling, however, is that Thanksgiving is a celebration of whatever you feel thankful for in your life in general and in the year that has gone by in particular.  I actually get offended when people refer to it as “Turkey Day,” as if eating huge meals is the only point.

ALAN: Does it happen on the same day every year or is it a moveable feast like Easter?

JANE: Thanksgiving moves around.  It is always the fourth Thursday in November.   Many schools and businesses are closed for a four-day weekend Because of this, Thanksgiving is actually the busiest travel date of the year (since not everyone celebrates holidays with religious roots).  Perversely, it is the one holiday when Jim and I do our best not to travel.

ALAN: I hate traveling when everybody else does – the roads are so full and the traffic moves so slowly. Robin and I always stay hermit-like at home at the start of long weekends. What do you do if you are not visiting family?

JANE: My own childhood provided me with a good example that you can have a festive and active Thanksgiving even when family is far away.

When I was a kid, despite my maternal grandfather being the only relative who lived at all close, we still managed to have a huge party.  My mom had a gift for finding people who would otherwise be alone for the holiday.  She would then invite all of them to a sit-down dinner.  To enable us to do this, we constructed a table that stretched –  no exaggeration –  from one end of the house to the other, enabling everyone to sit together.

These days, sometimes Jim and I are the “orphans” and go to someone else’s house, but because we like to cook, we also often entertain people here.  Last year, my mom came to visit and we had some friends in as well.  We ate a large dinner, then settled down to play Trivial Pursuit.  The game went on so long that we were all able to have second helpings of the excellent pies one of our guests had brought – very satisfactory for all.

ALAN: How do you cope with cooking the turkey that, according to the books I’ve read, seems to be such an integral part of the Thanksgiving celebration? We generally have turkey at Christmas and I’ve always found the birds to be far too large to fit into the average oven.  Or maybe everybody I know has a smaller than average oven…

JANE: Jim and I have a kettle grill and cook the turkey outside.  My parents did the same thing.  Not only does this make for an absolutely wonderful turkey, but it frees the oven up for other things.

ALAN: Sorry – but what’s a kettle grill? I’ve never heard the phrase before.

JANE: I’ll supply a picture…  I believe this type of grill was popularized by a company called Weber.  My folks had one long before they were common and people often asked what the weird thing in our yard was.

With the lid off, they work pretty much like any other grill, but the high, domed lid makes it possible to cook in it almost as you would in an oven.  For the turkey, we divide the coals into two separate sections.  The drip pan goes in between so, not only do we have drippings for gravy, flare-ups from fat hitting the coals are minimized.

ALAN: It sounds like a cunning device. Impressive!

JANE: I do find it amusing that turkey – a bird so American that Benjamin Franklin actually suggested it as our national emblem – has become a centerpiece of British Christmas.  We’ve adopted so much from you that it’s nice to know it has gone both ways.  I think goose was more common before, wasn’t it?

ALAN: Oh, the British aren’t proud. We’ll steal good ideas from anyone. Yes – there was a time when goose was on the menu, but that time is long gone.  I’ve never seen it served.

American movies and books always seem to have football games as the centrepiece of  the celebration. Is this really the case or is it just a movie cliche?  It seems weirdly inappropriate to me, given what lies behind the idea of Thanksgiving.

JANE: Sadly, yes.  Football games have become inseparable for some people from celebrating Thanksgiving.  My mom tried to resist this, but finally had to give in and permit a small television in a side room so that the addicts could get their fix.

Fortunately, for me, Jim can do without Thanksgiving football, so unless we’re at someone else’s house, we have a more traditional celebration centered around food, games, food, conversation, food, and…  Well, food.  I don’t do nearly as elaborate a meal as my mother did, although last year we came close.  You see, for my mother, ravioli are part of a tradition Thanksgiving meal.

ALAN: Ah, ravioli! That famous Native American dish. I’ve read so many exciting novels that describe the central American plains teeming with herds of the wild ravioli. I gather that they are dangerous beasts and few hunters escape unscathed from their encounters with the fearsome ravioli, particularly in the mating season. You must be very proud of your mother’s hunting skills. Tell me more!

JANE: Alan, you are a very silly person, true to the heritage of the island nation that gave us Monty Python.   I am proud of you.  Heritage is so important to holidays.

Genetically, my mom is half-Italian.  However, since she was reared near her Italian relatives, when it comes to holiday foods, the Italian influence dominates.  So our Thanksgiving meal would start with homemade ravioli in red sauce.  Then, because my mom wanted Thanksgiving to celebrate our multi-cultural heritage, we’d move on to a course of homemade kielbasa and kapusta (a cabbage dish) from my father’s Russian side.  The kielbasa, by the way, was a homemade fresh sausage, nothing like the salty, smoked version.

By the time the turkey came out, people were looking cross-eyed and stuffed already.  I swear that the year the turkey platter flipped in my “Uncle” Bill’s hands and spread some turkey (there was more) on the floor some people actually looked relieved!

ALAN: Robin’s birthday is 17th November, very close to Thanksgiving. Perhaps next year, to show how thankful I am to have her in my life, I’ll cook her an American Thanksgiving dinner. With asparagus of course. It’s at its best right now and I dearly love it.

JANE: I’ll happily supply menus.  I’m curious. When I was doing research for Fire Season, my collaboration with David Weber, I was surprised how many different birthday customs there are.  Are there any particular British birthday customs?

ALAN: A few…

JANE: Then tell me all about them!  And to all of you who are sharing this holiday – or its aftermath – with us, may you have much to be thankful for!

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6 Responses to “TT: Not Just “Turkey Day””

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    Alan, the people you know have small ovens 🙂

    The standard range [cooker] in the US & Canada is 30″ – and those you are most likely to run into in the low-rent districts. Many, perhaps most, people nowadays will have 36″ ranges, with ovens to match. So they match the turkey. IIRC, most of the units you’re familiar with will be 24″ [or 60cm], with 90cm exceptionally large and probably not too common. And, come to think of it, no deeper than the smaller ones. I used to have trouble fitting a _chicken_ into the oven of my French stove. Fortunately we never saw a entire turkey in the 12 years I lived there or the frustration would have been unbearable

  2. janelindskold Says:

    Our turkey came out very well. So did all the trims. However, I miss the days when one could easily find a turkey almost too large for my grill. Despite only having three people eating yesterday, I don’t see the overwhelming leftovers…

    Or maybe I just ate too much.

  3. janelindskold Says:

    Over the weekend I had time to read some newspaper articles. I was appalled to learn that for many people Thanksgiving has become nothing more than a kick-off to the Christmas shopping season.

    Worse, one of the campaigns to protest this calls itself something like “Respect the Turkey.” Doesn’t that in and of itself diminish the holiday to nothing more than a big meal?

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      haven’t ever seen anything about ‘Respect the Turkey’ [we have the good sense to hold Thanksgiving before Halloween, so there’s no Christmas connection at all 😉 ], but the name itself had me antcipating a demand that when we invite the turkey to dinner, we do it by putting a stool at one end of the table – with a large sheet of newspaper under it, of course – and placing a pan of seeds and grubs in front of it for the guest’s appreciation.

      The rest of the diners are properly vegan, of course, but you have to respect the dietary traditions of turkeydom.

      which thought leads me off at a complete tangent, to wonder how many vegans have read Agent of Vega, and what theyk of it

  4. Pati Nagle Says:

    Just an historical note: Thanksgiving celebrations on the fourth Thursday of November began during the Civil War, when President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863.

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