Get your Thanksgiving countdown in motion.
SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Fine as Frog Hair: Doing splendidly, like us folks here in Rebeltown after surviving six straight weeks of Groving … even if we did lose to No. 8 in the last home game of the season. We held our own and still won the party.
COUNTDOWN TO THANKSGIVING AND THANKSGIVUKAH
The annual countdown to Thanksgiving has begun. Often viewed as our American ode to gluttony, Thanksgiving is much more than a day of food overkill and football.
President Lincoln’s declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was much needed during a time of civil strife. The 1860s ideal behind Thanksgiving holds true today. It is our official celebration of the ideal that peoples from disparate backgrounds and opinions can set aside differences for the common good in a Land of Plenty.
This year, for only the second time since 1888, we have a double whammy of gratefulness to celebrate: Chanukah begins on Tuesday, November 26, and runs through December 3. Chanukah is the Jewish festival of lights celebrating the Judean Maccabee Jews’ victory over their oppressors, who were led by Syrian Greek King Antiochus IV. The Old Bride’s Jewish friends have named the Thanksgiving-Chanukah overlap Thanksgivukah. Adam Sandler’s probably writing a new song about it.
The Old Bride is keeping the Thanksgiving holiday simple this year — not by choice, but by necessity. Three factors have driven me to it: Scattered loved ones, the Egg Bowl, and a dead fridge.
Hubby’s in travel mode, and is barely making it home for the holiday before having to scoot off again. One expects this when married to an NFL official. But this is our first year of dealing with adult children’s other-centric schedules. The offspring are NOT making it home for Thanksgiving Day. One adult child is visiting her roommate’s family in Japan.
The other almost-adult child is a Pride of the South Band member participating in that uniquely Mississippi nonsense called the Egg Bowl. For some convoluted reason unknown to those of us not weaned on the milk of longstanding Ole Miss-Mississippi State conflict, the Egg Bowl has been returned to its traditional Thanksgiving Day schedule. And unfortunately for us fans from the School Up North, the game is happening this Thanksgiving in Cowbell Central (Starkville).
Some traditions OUGHT to be broken.
And then there’s the appliance problem. Our 6-year-old backup fridge died Friday, just in time to NOT be replaced by Thanksgiving (space constraints don’t allow for just any old dimensions). We must make do with our commercial refrigerator. This means cleaning out every extraneous condiment bottle and leftover to make room for the cranberry salad, pies, and prepped casseroles.
Storing the 20-pound free-range, organic fresh turkey from Zion Farms is another matter.
This year, when some of my family and a few Band waifs gather for our Day-After-Thanksgiving Dinner, we will give thanks for many things: Security. Improved optimism despite computer glitches. Continued good health. The calmest hurricane season in decades. Dodging the latest round of tornadoes. Friends with empty refrigerators.
ORGANIZE YOUR THANKSGIVING COUNTDOWN
A successful Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t happen spontaneously. It requires military-like organization to coordinate the meal preparation and the sit-down in between parades, ballgames, and guests’ travel schedules. Even the kitchen-challenged need to plan ahead if ordering from a food-service provider. Here’s how I plan to count down the days before my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve also listed several traditional, prep-in-advance recipes for Thanksgiving, and a fun Thanksgivukah dish.
- Determine what foods to prepare for the big day.
- Make grocery list.
- Visit grocery store to purchase dairy products, containers of msg-free chicken broth/stock, and frozen turkey (if not using fresh turkey).
- Place frozen turkey in the refrigerator in roasting pan to begin thawing (NEVER thaw frozen turkey on the counter).
- Set holiday table (basics).
- Start 3-day coconut cake preparations, if making one.
- Prepare frozen cranberry or congealed holiday salad recipe, and place in freezer.
- Make up refrigerator doughs such as refrigerator rolls or cheese wafers or cookies.
- Make grocery store visit #2. Purchase fresh veggies and other last-minute incidentals (and fresh turkey if you have reserved one at the store).
- Start batch of crème fraîche on the kitchen counter.
- Make two pans of skillet cornbread (classic unsweetened recipe). Flip out into a pan to dry out for a day.
- Prepare any appetizers that can be refrigerated for several days, such as pimento cheese, cheese logs, or cheese rings.
- Prepare veggies and salad fixings (other than tomatoes) by rinsing and drying, and peeling, etc. Refrigerate prepped veggies and salad greens, covered.
- Make up salad dressings if appropriate to meal.
- Continue 3-day coconut cake preparations.
- Prepare pies and finish 3-day coconut cake.
- Begin brining the turkey to ensure moistness (brine it overnight in a solution of water, cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, fresh thyme).
- Prep assorted casseroles (sweet potatoes, green beans, squash) except for beaten eggs; refrigerate, to put in the oven Thanksgiving Day.
- Whip and refrigerate whipped cream or sweetened crème fraiche.
- Estimate timing for cooking the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, allowing 30 minutes of oven-roasting per pound, PLUS 30 minutes to an hour for “resting” before carving.
- Crumble dried-out cornbread and grate stale bread to make bread crumbs.
- Prep turkey and roast or smoke it (smoking takes 12+ hours for a large turkey). Be sure to baste the bird frequently after several hours.
- Make up pan of cornbread dressing.
- Remove casseroles from fridge and add beaten eggs if appropriate.
- Boil two eggs and in a separate saucepan boil turkey giblets for gravy.
- If making homemade rolls, remove the dough from fridge and make them up; set pan in warm corner, covered with damp cloth, for rolls to rise. Allow 1 to 1-1/2 hour(s) until they double in size.
- Remove frozen salads from freezer.
- Enlist family members to finish setting table, and to assemble and set out appetizers and assorted salads.
- One hour before dining time, place casseroles in oven.
- While turkey is resting, make up gravy and bake the rolls (Sister Schubert Rolls can go right from freezer to oven).
- Seat your guests and family. Hold hands and give thanks.
FROZEN FRUIT SALAD
This dish is a classic dating back to simpler times, in large part because it could be frozen ahead of time, didn’t require sugar, and would feed as many as 16 people. It is not meant to replace fresh cranberry salad.
Two 8-oz pkgs cream cheese (low-fat is fine)
2 T mayonnaise
20-oz can of chunk pineapple, drained but juice reserved
2 T pineapple juice (from can of pineapple)
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 c sweet seedless grapes, cut in half
1 c mini-marshmallows (96 minis or 24 regular size marshmallows, quartered)
1/2 c chopped pecans or walnuts
Spray a 9-by-13-inch freezer-proof pan with nonstick cooking spray. Beat cream cheese with mixer on medium speed. Add the mayo and pineapple juice, beating until well blended. Whip the cream and fold into the cream cheese mixture. Mix in the marshmallows, grapes, pineapple chunks, and nuts. Pour into the prepped pan and smooth out the top. Cover tightly and freeze until about 45 minutes before the meal. Cut frozen salad into squares; serve on lettuce leaves. Yields 16 squares.
DIANNE’S SWEET POTATO PIE
We are fortunate that Mississippi is a center of sweet potato agriculture. This pie is an often-preferred alternative to pumpkin pie. It can be partially prepped ahead of time, or the entire pie made up several days before the meal. Refrigerate it until ready to serve.
4 c boiled sweet potatoes, well drained, peeled, and mashed
4 T salted butter, melted
2 c white granulated sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c evaporated milk
1-1/3 tsp table salt
2 T vanilla extract
3 unbaked pie shells (not deep-dish)
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Mash the potatoes while still hot. Stir in melted butter until completely blended. Add remaining ingredients, one at a time, stirring to blend completely.
Pour mixture evenly into 3 unbaked pie shells (thawed to room temperature if frozen). Bake on center rack of oven approximately 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pies to rack to cool and set up before serving. Serve with a dollop of sweetened crème fraîche or whipped cream. Freezes well up to one month if wrapped tightly after cool-down.
MATZO APPLE, PEAR, AND CRANBERRY CRISP
Here’s a terrific fruit crisp made with matzo meal. The cranberries turn the fruit a beautiful deep red.
1-1/2 lb pears (about 3 to 4 pears)
1-1/2 lb crisp apples (4 to 5 apples)
12-oz bag of fresh cranberries
1/3 c white granulated sugar
1/3 c light brown sugar
3 T of minute Tapioca
2 T orange juice
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange zest
3/4 c matzo meal
1/4 c packed dark brown sugar
2 T white granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp table salt
1/2 c chopped toasted pecans, almonds, or walnuts
8 T (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
Vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with butter or nonstick cooking spray. Peel, core and dice the pears and apples. Rinse and chop the cranberries in food processor. Combine the three fruits and toss with the sugars, Tapioca, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Set aside.
Combine the matzo meal, dark brown and white sugar, and the spices in a large bowl and use fingers to mix together. Work in the nuts and butter pieces with a pastry cutter until the mixture is combined and crumbly. This can be done in a food processor if you don’t over-process.
Spread fruit mixture evenly in dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit. Place dish on a cookie sheet to catch overflow, and bake 50 to 60 minutes, turning pan once to ensure even browning. Remove from oven when bubbly and lightly browned. Cool 15 minutes before serving, topped with the ice cream or crème fraîche, or with a non-dairy topping. (Use a non-dairy topping to keep the dessert “pareve”.)
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).