Thanksgiving conjures many positive memories for me of family and friends, seductive aromas and upholding time tested and honored traditions in the kitchen.
My earliest memories are of gathering at my grandparent’s home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I fondly recall the rush of aunts, uncles, and cousins tumbling into my grandmother’s home, shedding coats and sweaters, and dividing up according to some unspoken duties. The children would immediately charge out the back door and into the backyard for a pre-thanksgiving game of baseball or kickball. Our moms, laden with baskets and boxes of pre-cooked family favorites, would gather in the kitchen. They would fuss over casserole dishes, rotating pans of delicacies in and out of the oven to make sure that everything was warm before serving. The dads would join my grandfather at the bar for a glass of sherry, or perhaps some of his special orange wine, or an old fashioned, and then gravitate towards the only color tv in the family to watch a little football.
I loved hanging out in the kitchen eavesdropping on the women sharing family gossip and helping my grandmother put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving table. It made me feel important to be asked to stir the gravy, letter, and arrange the place cards, fold napkins, and select the special turkey-shaped candles for the kid’s table.
The tables were usually decorated with an assortment of kids thanksgiving crafts that we would bring to my ever tolerant and loving grandmother as gifts. Handprint turkeys, turkeys crafted from pine cones, construction paper pilgrim hats, Native American feather headbands, and turkeys with accordion fan tail feathers were artfully and proudly displayed.
The menu was generally predictable depending on who was joining us for the Thanksgiving feast and what their particular expertise in the kitchen maybe.
My grandmother roasted the turkey and made the world’s best gravy from the turkey drippings. If I was lucky, I got to preview the gravy. My grandmother would fix me a plate with a slice of white bread and a ladle of the rich brown gravy. The gravy would soak into the bread and melt in my mouth as I relished each delectable bite. I still cherish this tradition and have taught my children to do the same.
My mom usually made mirlitons, also known as vegetable pears or chayote squash, stuffed with fresh gulf shrimp. Check out my recipe to learn how to make these savory stuffed squash. Thanksgiving would not be complete without shrimp stuffed mirlitons in honor of my mom.
As my family developed their own traditions for Thanksgiving, we always had rice and gravy (with a preview taste on white bread) and dirty rice. Dirty rice is savory rice made with turkey giblets and seasonings and can be found on the blog.
Some years we did not have turkey and would break with the turkey tradition and turn instead to Paul Prudhomme and his recipe for spicy Cajun Pork Roast.
Rather than any type of cornbread stuffing, we always prepared garlicky baked oysters Mosca which seem to be the perfect accompaniment to turkey or pork. We would all fight over the baking dish at the end of the meal to get the crispy scrapings of bread crumbs, olive oil, and garlic.
As the years passed, I moved away from the throwback sugary whipped sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows and prefer Indian spiced roasted sweet potatoes and other simple roasted seasonal vegetables.
Celebrate your family traditions in the kitchen with the people and the food that you love. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!