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Food & Drink > Recipes > Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner

I wish I could make stuffing that tasted like my mother's. This is how she made it:

Lay Wonder bread on the oven racks for a couple of days and let the heat from the pilot light dry it out
Use a rolling pin to roll the dried bread into fine crumbs
Slice onions thinly after cutting in half, and cook soft in a stick or two of butter
Season with something - salt, maybe pepper, probably sage
It wasn't a custom in our family to put an egg or two in the stuffing, and I didn't discover that nuance until I went back east after college. This one family put so many eggs, the stuffing was firm enough to be sliced right along with the turkey meat.

Mix the crumbs with the onions and moisten with chicken broth that maybe came from boiling the wing tips, neck, and giblets, but I'm not so sure because I think she used that water for the gravy. It's possible she used Swanson's canned chicken broth.
Sometimes she would put oysters in some of the stuffing. And she'd always stuff it in the turkey to cook it.

The onions in butter tasted so good it was hard to stop eating them, and the stuffing overall was really good before it was baked inside the turkey or a casserole dish. (I can't remember if she used celery, but if she did, she'd have sauteed it with the onions, and I don't remember addictive butter-basted celery.)

My stuffing is okay, but not as good. And I admit that over the years I have tried various things - diced apples, breakfast sausage, cornbread, 'stuffing mix.' But I always had onions sauteed in butter with sage and other 'poultry' seasonings, and the onions alone were never addictive, so she had some magic touch.

This creamed onions recipe is one I found in a New York Times cookbook when I was in high school, and my mother always made it after that:

Creamed Onions
12 servings
36 small white onions
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 tsp cloves

Cook the onions in their skins until tender, 20 minutes or longer. Drain and peel. Melt the butter, add the flour, and stir with a wire whisk until blended. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil and add all at once to the butter flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk until sauce is smooth and thickened. Add sauce to the onions and reheat. Stir in the parsley, paprika, and cloves.

And my mother made Parker House rolls. She'd roll the dough out on the Formica counter, and make a puddle of melted butter off to the side. She had one of those circular choppers that's like a big biscuit cutter with a tall handle, and used a wooden spoon handle to poke a crease into the dough where she was going to fold it over. They were good-sized rolls that were good for turkey sandwiches.

She made cranberry sauce from scratch.

We always had those Old South watermelon pickles in a cut glass dish, and maybe a dish of pitted black olives. I can't remember if there was carrot sticks and celery sticks. Nobody in my family ever put an olive on each fingertip and ate it off like I've seen happen in certain other families, such as my cousins, whom my mother considered uncivilized.

There were a lot of dishes on the table: bread and butter plate for the dinner rolls, little sauce dishes for the creamed onions, gravy boat, individual salt and pepper at each plate, platter of turkey, bowls of stuffing and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. The pickles and olives in one of those divided dishes. Everyone had their own little butter spreader, and if there was a gelatin salad square perched on a limpish square of iceberg lettuce, garnished with a dollop of mayonnaise, everyone had a salad fork as well as a dinner fork.

The dinner plates were these DAR Plates showing historical American scenes, sold by the Daughters of the American Revolution chapters. They were my grandmother's. My dad and his siblings each had their favorite. His had an Indian on it.

There was blue glassware to go with the plates:

The other dishes were this pattern: Melrose by Grindley:

This was the centerpiece when I was in junior high through high school:

Of course we had pumpkin pie for dessert, probably "Aunt Edith's Pumpkin Pie" recipe which was pretty much the standard recipe that everyone uses, served with real whipped cream, slightly sweetened and flavored with vanilla.

But sometimes we went to someone else's house for Thanksgiving dinner. The one I remember the most was Madeline "Muddy" McCrum, who had a tiny cute little tract home on the north side of Denver, the epitome of 'little boxes built out of ticky-tacky.' Besides us, there were other people crammed around that table, and I remember one year when I wasn't very old there was a grown son and his mother, and the dad had died the night before (expected), but the mother didn't know it yet, and nobody was supposed to let on so it wouldn't ruin her day. I've always wondered if she ever figured out the time line, but maybe she didn't care at that point.

posted on Nov 13, 2020 6:23 PM ()


What detailed and delicious memories!! I wish I could remember things like that. Truly, my very favorite time of the year.
My poor uncivilized children will have to refrain from the black olive trick.
comment by jerms on Nov 18, 2020 6:05 AM ()
I think people like a lot of whatever cooking they had growing up if they had affection for the cook. To this day I prefer dry turkey like my mom made and weird stuffing with walnuts, apples, raisins and Worchestershire sauce. In rebellion against the kosher Thanksgivings the last couple of years for my BIL, I think I'll make some mashed potatoes without the olive oil stuff and with actual milk. Or I might break down and try making those creamed onions. Can't make both without having a cholesterol attack.
comment by drmaus on Nov 15, 2020 3:13 PM ()
I tried to remember how my mother made it too but no luck. It was excellent, obviously, or I wouldn't try to copy it. It definitely had celery and it definitely had Thyme. I think it's the thyme that made the big difference. Same deal with the "stale" bread although she let it happen naturally. No mold tho. Usually Donna insists on a turkey even tho I have no use for the damn thing. I like dark meat, but I turkey leg is much tougher than a chicken leg. Now she says a breast will do. But I'll go with a 12 pounder if I can find one
comment by jjoohhnn on Nov 14, 2020 10:06 AM ()
Is it nostalgia or was it really that good? I looked forward all year to Thanksgiving and Christmas at my grandmother's house. The food incredible and I could count on a wardrobe of doll clothes and home made doll quilts. My Uncle made me some sturdy playhouse furniture that lasted well into my adult hood. Hats and mittens came from my other grandmother who was wonderful but not a very talented cook.
comment by elderjane on Nov 14, 2020 3:48 AM ()
I am watching the PBS Great Performaces of "Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles" and reading your post all I could think of is "Traditions"--and your Thanksgiving post is just that--sadly many traditions are forgotten, adapted, changed, etc., but WE remember them!!
comment by greatmartin on Nov 13, 2020 7:13 PM ()

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