Food & Drink · Lifestyle

Molly Fisk: Anything But Turkey

Well, it’s happened again. You’ve spent the last month cleaning out gutters, seeding cover crops on your vegetable garden, and cutting up tree limbs downed in the last heavy storm. Now, without any warning, Thanksgiving has snuck up on you. It’s next week, if you hadn’t noticed the bulbous frozen turkeys spilling out of freezer cases at your local grocer’s, and end-of-aisle pyramid displays of canned cranberry sauce and Martinelli’s fizzy apple juice.

There is something very American about this holiday, and I don’t mean its reputed origins as a Pilgrim feast in the year 16-whatever. I’m thinking of everyone in this country who’ll eat the same meal. How many of us are there, 300 million? Excepting some thousands who may not celebrate this way —  including vegetarians and people who can’t afford to buy turkeys — most of us will eat some variation of the famous bird, as well as stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes, little white creamed onions, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy, Parker House rolls, perhaps a salad, and whatever traditions you have at your house. After a brief pause to clear the table, we’ll continue on to pumpkin, apple, and/or pecan pie, or if someone’s feeling inventive, chocolate cream or lemon meringue. Despite Martha Stewart’s attempts at variation, Thanksgiving is the most predictable meal served in the United States all year.

It’s the only meal at which Americans eat cranberries, and cranberry farmers on Cape Cod spend all year aiming for it. Yes, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice is a component of cocktails, and we sometimes string the plump berries like beads to decorate Christmas trees. But without Thanksgiving, cranberries would disappear from the earth. This would be a shame. The same might be true of pearl onions, but none too soon in my opinion. I’m the child in my family who had to take their sticky skins off before my mother could boil them, and a more heinous task I can’t recall.

The most delicious Thanksgiving meal I ever had was at a friend’s house in 1993, when eating was just taking off as a modern religion. These people were self-described “foodies,” not interested in the usual menu for dinner. I was instructed to bring two loaves of a certain kind of bread, made by a specific bakery in Berkeley, and unsalted butter. The meal was a whole salmon poached in Reisling and a huge oval bowl divided length-wise in half, one side filled with wild rice, in honor of Native Americans, and the other filled with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, golden and chewy and tasting of that wonderful earthy smell that rises from the forest floor after a rain. For dessert we had espresso and someone’s homemade chocolate truffles.

This year I feel like rebelling again, opting for omelettes or pan-fried trout. Maybe I‘ll roast a turkey in December, just to prove I can do it and also to have leftovers, which are the best part. I will not be making those dratted onions, and I don’t care how many ancestors roll over in their graves when they hear me say it.

None of them raised me to be a conformist.

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  • elizabeth November 19, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    We are talking about slow roasted ribs for T’Day here in Charlotte. We are not conformists. One year my foodie son fixed a Christmas dinner of multi-ethnic appetizers. My husband was so incensed that he has not been back here in 8 years! YEA!

  • Jan Hersh November 19, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Hello Molly,
    Since my hubby’s 70th is on Thanksgiving this year we will be celebrating with family in Mexico. I don’t think we’ll be eating turkey and we are perfectly fine with that. I am happy not to conform after all these years!

  • Sarah Rohrs November 19, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Delightful column. Thanks! The more memorable Thanksgiving dinners for me are ones that didn’t involve the traditional food. One year we had pizza and salad, and another year we had lentil soup and garlic bread. I do miss my mom’s gravy, though. That was the finishing touch, the last thing she’d make in the turkey pan.

  • Gail in Seattle November 19, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Two friends will join us. For our small group meal we ignore the giant feast and will wallow in fresh local Dungeness crab with a choice of melted butter or real Louis dressing (not the sham version that is really 1000 Island, a butter lettuce salad with citrus and green onions, crusty rolls from our wonderful local Macrina bakery. For a ‘touch of the traditional’ we will have some sparkling wine or fizzy water with a splash of cranberry juice and finish with pumpkin cheesecake perhaps with a small scoop of ginger ice cream from Snoqualmie creamery. Very little prep and maximum enjoyment.

  • Molly Fisk November 19, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Andrea and Julia, have a wonderful time whatever you eat, and pecan pie *always* counts. It is probably one of the four food groups. I do like cranberries “off-season” myself, but what I really like are lingonberries, having lived in Norway for a year, and luckily that cute Swedish furnishings conglomerate sells them, so now they are easy to find in America. xox

  • Andrea November 19, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I also agree with you Molly. Never was a fan of thanksgiving food!! -does pecan pie count?? Yum ! happy holiday and thanks for all your wonderful writing for WVFC

    • hillsmom November 19, 2016 at 10:11 am

      Well, pecan pie certainly does count! I have my own Mother’s recipe which has now been passed down to my own (grown) children. Don’t forget a dab of unsweetened, or very, very lightly sweetened whipped cream, too. One must have for me is Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle which is defrosted and baked in my own souffle dish. The only way I know how to roast the turkey is in my old Weber charcoal cooker. Has to be cooked unstuffed, but can be timed perfectly. The stuffing gets cooked in the oven. Only down side is no drippings for gravy, but there are “cheaty” ways to get around that. (Margaret & Helen’s blog has some funny letters to relatives should you care to have a smile) One other thing which has evolved over the years, is that now many prefer Cranberry Orange Relish to the whole berry sauce. We’ll have both. Happy Thanksgiving to all… and thanks for reminding me to get the sparkling cranberry-apple juice for the kids.

      • Molly Fisk November 19, 2016 at 10:16 am

        Hillsmom, your post was hiding! This sounds fabulous. I love Margaret & Helen, too. Happy Day!

  • Julia November 19, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I agree with you about turkey (and especially those disgusting sweet yams) but cranberries–I love them, put them in things all year round (apple sauce, smoothies, muffins) and I think they have gradually become a large part of the food chain, thanks to Ocean Spray.