Thanksgiving Preparations Long Ago
Families try to get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and eat too much, even today but back when I was a child the tradition was even stronger. Usually Ma, Pa and I went to the Big Farm for the day, but occasionally Ma could pursuade everyone to come to our house in town.
Travel, even for what we now consider a short distance, was often inconvenient and uncomfortable in those days of horse and open buggy or sleigh rides over unpaved roads. But when everyone did agree to come we would settle happily into efficient turmoil for days in advance.
Already spotless linen must be done up fresh, gleaming silver polished until Pa vow'd Ma would wear it out, shining dishes must be washed anew and an orgy of cooking carried on. Of course every nook and cranny of the house must be cleaned somehow.
Soon two truly mammoth turkeys hung in the frosty shed, their headless necks and naked wings drooping limply. How good those plump drumsticks would taste if I was lucky enough to get one! Bread was baked several days ahead to be used for stuffing, and in the root cellar, a pile of select potatoes lay cheek by jowl with the great grey squash destined to accompany the fabulous birds.
Pa brought home quarts of oysters, part for the stuffing of one bird, and the rest to be escalloped as a side dish. Ma saved out enough to make oyster stew for our night-before-Thanksgiving supper. We had steaming bowls of it, oysters simmered to tenderness in rich milk seasoned with ground pepper and streaked with golden butter. Tiny oyster crackers softened and swelled before they floated into our spoons. Dessert was hot Apple Betty topped with cream.
After supper Pa helped pull out and add all the leaves to the big dining table. Then Ma and I spread it with the Rose and Ivy damask cloth, set out the lovely Moss Rose china flanked by the much polished silver, and centered the table with a heaping bowl of fruit and nuts. I had the fun of choosing which of the many pattered spoons were to be used at each place; souvenir spoons for my cousins, lacy fern for Grandma, roses for my aunts, solid geometric patterns for Grandpa and my uncles, and the pointed handled ones with our names engraved on them for Ma, Pa and me.
A rank of serving pieces lay before Ma's place, large tablespoons for vegetables, mashed potatoes, extra stuffing, and the escalloped oysters, several pickle forks, spoons for cranberries, cinnamon apples, and jellys, butter knives, sugar shells, and gravy ladles. At Pa's and Uncle Lonzo's places lay carving sets, long two tined forks and sharp steel bladed knives with black bone handles resting on two tiny legs, and a spoon for removing the stuffing.
On the sideboard stood an array of cut and pressed glass dishes awaiting butter, on each slab of which was stamped a butterfly, pickes, olives, celery (that went in a tall vase in those days), jellys, and the sweet-tart cranberries already cooked to clear ruby perfection and chilling in the cold cellar.
Pantry shelves held a grand collection of pies; golden pumpkin, mellow spicy mincemeat, sour cherry with juice glazed lattice top , and a couple of apple pies for more down-to-earth taste. Half of one of Pa's ripest cheeses lay under an iron kettle to hold in its "rich aroma".
"Wes sure turns a mean cheese! This one's mean enought to bite back." was often said with a grin. Never a scrap went begging tho.
All afternoon the kitchen range had roared with skillfully controlled wood-fed flames while bread baked and great slabs of squash steamed in its ovens. Now the squash was scraped into Ma's big blue bowl and whipped with salt, pepper, and sweet butter until it was smooth.
"Thank goodness it's not
wet! I'd hate to serve a wet squash." Ma sighed
in satisfaction and relief.
"Bert'd never know the difference",Pa would comment,"He always drowns it in gravy anyway. Any man'ud put gravy on -pie-...!!!" shaking his head.
"Only apple pie", Ma absently defended her brother, not noticing Pa's teasing grin.
Now it was time to prepare the turkeys. Every possible pinfeather was removed, every remaining wisp singed off cleanly leaving an acrid feather smell in the air. Next the birds were washed and dried inside and out, liberally salted and peppered within, then crammed lightly but firmly with handfuls of stuffing and sewed up with white darning cotton. Wings were adroitly tucked under the back and the drumsticks firmly tied down to the tail. Finally each bird was heavily larded and sprinkled with salt and pepper before being laid to rest in heavy dripping pans to spend one last short night in the cold cellar for they were destined to be put in the oven at an early hour the next morning.
The last chore was potatoe paring. Pa
lent a hand at that, for a prodigious amount was
needed to make sufficient mashed potatoes for our
gathered clan. Pa specialized in one long,
unbroken strip while Ma and I concentrated on
quantity rather than quality though our parings
were thinner than Pa's.
"You waste the best part cutting so thick."Ma sputtered.
"Just trying to help - want me to stop?" Pa'd ask innocently.
"Goodness no, just let's get them -done-." So we'd pare and scrape away until the pile in the basket disappeared and our kettles were full.
"Now, what have I forgot?" Ma'd ask when we'd tidied up.
"Bed time, I collect."
Pa'd say, "Time for prayers, Katy Lou, then off
dreamland. Big day tomorrow and you'll be Ma's
As if my aunts wouldn't be bustling around the kitchen so that any child entered at peril of life and limb!
Needless to say the next day was crowded with family, laughter, loving teasing, good food, and heartfelt gratitude for blessings received. Rather than relate that day, I'd like to tell you of an earlier one, a Thanksgiving at my Grandparent's home, the Big Farm.