Not about fishing, but very appropriate as Thanksgiving approaches. Thanks again to Jay Stewart for this submission. (Jay actually submitted this story a year ago, it has since been sitting on our shelves waiting for Thanksgiving to come back around!)
THANKSGIVING MEMORIESby Jay Stewart
Thanksgiving and Cedartown, where many of my relatives once lived, are synonymous to me. We usually had Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Katherine's (I called her Sister) house. Going to Cedartown, when I was a child and teenager in the fifties and sixties was a bit magical, because little Cedartown was fifteen to twenty years in technological advancement behind my home in Atlanta and Dalton. It was like going back into a time warp to the late thirties and early forties. Cedartown was my Mayberry and Aunt Katherine, whom I called Sister, my Aunt Bea.
The Thanksgiving table at Sisterís house was celebrated by many people, and generously added to, in my adolescence, by the Sonís in Laws and babies of Sister's daughters. Although the faces sometimes changed, grew older, and sadly disappeared, many things became customary. Arthur, splurging for the festive occasion invited his friends, Earnest and Julio Gallo to the meal, and grumbled under his breath as he struggled to pull the crumbing cork. I can remember all the cousins and friends that visited, the perfumery old ladies planting dry lipped kisses on my boyish cheek, the wonderful smells coming out of Sister's kitchen and marveling how so much food could come out of that small place.
In this bastion of southern cooking the first course was usually a soup which did not garnish the table, but was brought to the sideboard and served in small teacups. I particularly liked the clam soup. This brothy soup was very light, and mostly served the purpose of keeping the young-unís like me out of the kitchen where others, and I would usually be every five minutes wondering when dinner would be ready. My father, the New England Yankee, snorted about this soup being southern because most clams came from New England and thus, the dish was not southern by nature. In the good spirit of defending the southís honor, Sister reminded Dad that indeed, in the tidewater area of Virginia they harvested clams and last she looked, Virginia, the home of our revered General Robert E. Lee, was a southern state. Not by much she admitted, but southern never-the-less. So as we all sat around in the living room, while the dinner was being set, mostly all that can heard is the clinking of spoons against 100-year-old teacups.
Barely Southern Clam Soup
Dice three slices of bacon and cook until mostly done. To this add one small onion and two
Short ribs of celery diced and saute until clear. Pour off all grease and add one can of
Chicken broth, one can of water and a bottle of clam juice. Also add a can of tomatoes chopped.
Let this simmer for 30 minutes or so adding water if necessary. In the last half-hour before you serve
Soup, add a good tablespoon of parsley, one medium potato diced, a teaspoon of lemon juice, salt, pepper, a dash of Tabasco sauce, and a can of diced clams. Cook until the potatoes are tender and serve hot.
We all were "pure-tee" Methodists and in my younger years, Arthur, Sisterís husband, or Sister usually uttered the Thanksgiving Day blessing. Arthur was good at it; short and sweet, and he also mumbled so afterwards you knew you prayed for something, but did not know just exactly what. Sisterís prayer, was a bit longer, but brief as well. As we aged, Sisterís youngest daughter Dottie, who found great solace in the church, was, by an unspoken consensus of opinion, considered the most pious of our group of cussers and sinners. So she was usually called upon for the blessing. Dottie took this responsibility to heart, and started off blessing everything in general, and after a minute or two became inspired, and started thanking everyone and everything. With the warm odors of the meal wafting past him, and his dying thirst aggravated by the condensation drops glistening off the glasses of Earnest and Julio; Arthur would raise an eye at Dottie and clear his throat. Sister returned a severe look, but Dottie received the message, cut things short and we ate.
And how we ate, all in a flurry of passing, asking, and if the "women folk" were not looking stabbing. I took my place between my two older cousins Francis and Betsy, the sisters. I was being strategic in choosing this location because first of all it was about as far away from my mother as I could get and still belly up to the table. From that distance Mom could only shoot looks at my directions when I was less than diligent in my manners, and because within limits Betsy especially and Francis to a degree had a sense of humor somewhat similar to mine. I got away with a lot more. However, Betsy and I, became mortal enemies when it came to our favorite thing on the table, the Southern Cornbread Dressing and, who was going to get the first piece? Frances by age could legally claim first piece, but that was no fun, and anyway she had the longest reach. Betsy and I however, had a sneakier approach in that we each positioned our forks under the opposing legs of the chaffing dish in an attempt to ease its position either up or down bringing it closer to one or the others plate. All during Dottieís miserably long prayer, from the lower end of the table where Betsy and I sat, a grating little, "scratch, scrap, scratch" emanated from the chaffing dish. Betsy and I, each with one eye cracked open and lips pursed tightly together to keep from laughing, moved the dressing back and forth into what we considered an advantageous position for the first piece. My little tattle tale sister was across and down from us, next to Mom, and after the noise got her attention she poked Mom. Mom knew if something was up it had to involve me, so she turned an investigative eye down the table. She smiled as noted that both Betsy and I had our heads bowed piously, but the smile was short lived as she observed the dressing sliding a few inches back and forth as if by magic. About the time Dottie got to blessing all the birds in the air, and fishes in the waters, Mom figured out what was happening. So with a discreet cough to get my attention, and a look that cleaved my forehead in half, put me out of the great cornbread dressing competition.
Southern Cornbread Dressing
One 8" pan of cornbread -make from package directions
One batch of biscuits-make from package directions or
2/3rds of a loaf of bread with the slices dried out.
3 cups of Chicken Stock
Ĺ cup chopped onion
Ĺ cup chopped celery
3 tablespoons rubbed sage.
Fix the cornbread from the package directions on Cornmeal Mix. Then make the biscuits, or dry out the slices from 2/3rds of a loaf of white bread. Dry it by leaving out overnight, or putting the slices on the baking sheet in a 150-degree oven until dried, not toasted.
Crumble the cornbread and biscuits or bread into the large rectangular baking pan, around a 13 by 7 or anywhere near that general size. Now add the chicken stock, I use the Wylerís powder to make the chicken stock, then beat the eggs and add along with the onions, celery and sage. I also add a bit of salt and pepper here too. Now stick you hands into the mess and stir it all up. You traditionally have to use your hands or it wonít taste as well. The mixture should be fairly wet, if not add more chicken stock. Mix very well, spread out flat on top and put in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes. The top should be slightly brown and the edges of the dressing pulled a little away from the edges of the pan. You can also check doneness but inserting a broom straw and if it comes out clean theday before. If you want oyster dressing just add a can of oysters during mixing.
Before the eating and jocularity began in earnest, Sister, in a voice reminiscent of Tiny Tim, always clasped her hands and said, "Don't we have a lot to be thankful for." It was not a question, but a statement; a fact, which so impressed my father, that on every future Thanksgiving meal from then on where Sister was not present he would always say just after the blessing, "Like Sister always said, Don't we have a lot to be thankful for." And this simple statement gave us all pause, for over the years many of those sitting at the table would be faced with times of distress and uncertainty. However, no matter how bad things were, every year the sweet voice of my aunt would give each of us a minute of reflection where maybe indeed many things to be appreciative for had happened in our lives.
As dishes were passed, outside the dressing, the next best thing to me was the Rutabagas. These are purplish root bulbs with a pleasing orange inside, but the outside looks like a nasty turnip. For many years, during the adverse times of the depression, this long storing root crop graced many a southern table, and sometimes was all that was on the table. It is not a food for everyone, and one often has to acquire a taste for it as with most southern depression crops like turnip greens, turnips, and poke salat. But we all loved its distinctive odor, the fluffy texture, with its sweet and sour taste. One thing was for sure; the bowl serving the rutabagas never required a lot of cleaning after the meal.
2 Rutabagas get as small of ones as you can
3-tablespoons butter, real butter please
1/4th teaspoon of salt and pepper
Peel and dice rutabagas and cook in slightly boiling water for about 40 minutes or until very tender. Drain well and put back into cooking pot. Add the butter, salt and pepper and mash like you are making mashed potatoes until there are no lumps. A southern cook would just die if anyone found a lump in her rutabagas. And then stir well. Stir very well. This is also something that can be made a day or two ahead, in fact every day it sits in the refrigerator the better it gets.
By now most had polished off their first servings, and were well on their way to dipping into their second ones.
I remember one Thanksgiving in particular when I was about twelve. Sister laid a table of perfection. All the crystal, china and flatware were my grandmothers and she received it from her grandmother, so everything was well over a hundred years old. This was the first year I was allowed to use the "good china," and there were all sorts of weird and fascinating things to amusement me. Salt cellars which were mini bowls with tiny spoons to season your food, forks with three long tines each curving out in graceful angles, flatware that was a knife and fork at in the same utensil, and plates with dividing ridges going every which way. It was a table that spoke of another time; a connection to past kith and kin.
Two muted silver candelabra set off a fall theme centerpiece with its colorful pumpkins, colored paper leaves and Indian corn. The napkins were folded into cute little arches which stood on end, and it was all set up on a table cloth of lace so fine that if you threw it up in the air it might take is two minutes before if finally fluttered to the ground. I was twelve and even I was impressed. Sister did herself proud, and just beamed, but as was her manner, she waved away each compliment with a gentle hand saying that it was, " not too much"," just no trouble aítallí, and "that anyone could have done it."
Now everybody, especially me, who in the past was known to stick a finger in something to sample it, was banned from the dining room until the diner was served. Since I was under a death watch from Mom not to get into any candy before the meal least it ruin my appetite, I was squirming in the chair just mere inches from the entrance to the room, moaning to anyone that would listen that if I did not eat soon I surely would perish. When Sister, Mom, and oldest cousin Frances started being forth a cornucopia of delights from the kitchen, I stood up to better my point of observation. It was then when I saw it. From the little tunnel under my fatherís folded napkin a brown little nose emerged with long whiskers and then a pointy-head with coal black eyes. It was a mouse. In hesitant, jerky movements it slinked from under the napkin, stood on its hind legs sniffing this way and that, obviously trying to separate the individual odors so it could move quickly too whatever struck its fancy. The mouse then scooted around the mashed potatoes giving them a courtesy whiff, then darted behind the rutabagas not hesitating at all for no mouse would ever eat that nasty stuff. All the sudden there was a loud bang from the kitchen frightening the little rodent, and it flew back to the sanctuary of Dadís napkin upsetting the spoon from a new dish of my motherís called Beef Rice.
On the next trip both Mom and Sister came out and it did not take them long to see the spoon laying on the lace tablecloth with a few dozen grains of amber colored rice still spreading a stain. Mom pointed an accusing finger at me just knowing I caused this trouble mostly because it was something I might do. But, I defended myself and told about the mouse. They both scoffed at my defense knowing that I concocted this tall tale to relieve myself of responsibility. Sister looked at me straight in the eye asking, " if there was a mouse; where is it now?" I pointed to Dadís nicely folded napkin. Mom, not being brave, but in a quick attempt to prove me a story teller, swiftly reached down swooping away the napkin which reveled one surprised, and scared mouse. First, she and Sister were paralyzed with the horror of the situation, and then in a move as swift as lightening Mom threw the napkin across the table and screamed. As they hunkered back, everyone in the house came running, and all the girl cousins screamed in turn as the hapless mouse stood again on its hind legs puzzled over all the sudden noise.
What was a poor, little mouse to me, was a nasty, hooked nosed Norwegian rat to them dripping all sorts of germs and filth on this pristine table. Surely a violation of the worse kind. Our womenfolk had this thing about germs spawned by great-grandmother Gran-Fan. The mouse now terrified itself ran off in all Godspeed. It accelerated between the turkey and dressing, swerved past the gravy boat, but then paused long enough at the spilled Beef Rice to grab a couple of grains. It then took two turns around Ernest and Julio, and finally crossed Arthurís plate jumping into the chair and on to the floor hightailing it to the den.
My aunt went white as refrigerated dough, and looked as if a sinking spell or worse, a faint was threatening, but as several loved ones rushed to her aid, Sisterís constitution reestablished itself, and she immediately went into action to rectify the situation. She came from strong stock. While all the women and girls huddled en-mass near the door, I was pressed into lifting the rest of the napkins least the mouse traveled with a friend. No other vile rodents were found, and soon we were all eating and laughing about the incident. Of course I could not help myself to a little devilment, so about half way through the meal I raised an edge of the tablecloth and yelled, "Heís back, heís back." Then, I laughed only like a boy can as everything on the table clunked up and down a half inch from all the knees hitting it as the women quickly lifted their feet from the floor. Everyone often remembered that Thanksgiving at future Thanksgivings, as well as a new dish my mother brought that year. I call it---
Mouse approved Beef rice.
A new southern tradition
1 and Ĺ cups rice
1-clove minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
4- cups beef stock- I use the Wylers powder double strength
Ĺ cup sliced green onions or regular ones
Saute rice in a fry pan in the oil until slightly brown. Add rest and cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Or put in covered casserole and put into 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes. Taste for doneness.
It was now most of the way through the meal, the appetites were sated and mostly we were stuffing on our individual favorite dishes. The turkey was a shadow of its one time glorious self and now stood a hunk of bones with a few shreds of meat. As she took it away, frugal Sister commented on how much was left and she might make at least two more meals out of it. There were a few pieces of lonely dressing, and a spoonful of cold mashed potatoes. What came next was my least favorite part of the holiday, the time when before we could leave the table, we had to go around and tell in front of God and everybody how we were individually thankful. I was a loudmouth, but when in front of people I was terribly shy. This was a painful thing for me to do and to take away the discomfort, I usually goof balled the situation doing things I felt were funny but rarely did anyone else. In the past, I tried telling I could not think of any thing, so I had to sit at the table until I came up with something to be thankful. One the trip to Cedartown Mom reminded me to think about what I was going to say, along with a warning that if I was silly, or released some family secret like I did last year I would be in trouble yet again.
Well it started with my grandmother LaLa who was thankful everyone who was at the table last year was still here this year, meaning herself mostly. Uncle Arthur, who was no public speaker either, mumbled something, Sister was thankful for all of her family and Godís many blessings, and Cousin Frances thanked about how well her babies were doing and for her fine husband. It was now my sister Jeanís turn and after a few seconds of consideration she blurted out that she was thankful about our dogs, Fritz the Dachshund, and Happy the Mutt. Well, with that I violated this solemn moment with a big horse laugh telling her that she was suppose to be thankful for something important not the dumb dogs. Little Jean looked up at Mom with a trembling lower lip. Casting a protective arm about her Mom declared that she thought being thankful for our dogs were a wonderful thing and everyone at the table agreed. Then, being under my mothers protective veil, sister Jean gave a secret halfcranked smile and said she was also thankful I did not cause a minor crisis this year like I did last year by spilling my iced tea. Everyone then laughed and agreed. As embarrassment swept through me I decided that the next day would call for a little pay back.
Dottie was next and since she had already blessed half the civilized world in the prayer, she only had a few more items to add. Now it was my turn and of course I had not thought of a thing. All eyes were upon me as I contemplated. Little beads of nervous sweat broke out on my forehead and my throat was closing up, finally I blurted out that I was thankful that Dottieís prayer this years was shorter than the year before. Immediately Betsy, sitting next to me hollered that it was no fair, she was going to say that, and she gave me a playful slap on the arm. As I weakly punched Betsy back she again returned my lick, so with hands flying as we smacked at each other a mild snickering started ,and as biting their knuckles failed work the adults broke out in laughter.
"Yes, I thought. I got away with this one."
But it was not to be because as soon as Mom and Sister looked at poor Dottie, who was now starting her little quivering act, all laughter died. Mom, now aggravated more than usual because I got her to laugh, pointed the finger of death at me and said I better come up with something better if I had any thoughts of not being in a room by myself for the next several hours. So I garnered additional thought and said, in all seriousness, that I was glad for all our money.
With that Mom threw her hands up in a definite gesture of surrender and shaking her head said, "Well I give up." At my young age I had not learned that the in the south, the absolute worse breach of manners was to mention money in any social situation, especially with women present. For here, in the lower states, prestige is a matter of family and friends, not financial considerations. To mention finance in social situations would embarrass those who did not have money, and worse, make it look like you were bragging. In fact, a person who would talk about money in a social situation, might even at a Cotillion Ball, where all the young ladies, at least for that day, no matter their size, features of face, or whiny, bitchy personality, were all beautiful, might point and comment that a few of them sure were ugly. Well, never the less I was off the hook, but all through this giving thanks, many hands made the trip the Sweet Potato Casserole for those last few crumbs.
Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes, mashed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter
Ĺ cup milk
Ĺ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Ĺ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup coconut
1 cup brown sugar
Ĺ cup flour
1/4 cup butter
I would double this recipe myself. Combine the first 10 ingredients; place in lightly
buttered baking dish. Mix topping ingredients until
crumbly and sprinkle over casserole. Bake at 350
degrees for 30 minutes.
All commercial cranberry products in the world come from one company, The Ocean Spray Company, and one year, when I was a kid, inspectors found a contamination in some cans of the Jellied Cranberry Sauce, and recalled all the cans. However, fearing a taint, our family ladies carried their worries over to all cranberry products except fresh berries. Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce would seem like a Christmas tree without some sort of tinsel. Mom and Sister in a flurry of phone calls, got together and after flipping though many different recipe books and using their inbred southern cook experiences they came up with the following cranberry congealed salad. I am not fond of congealed salads mostly because I wonít eat anything that has that awful word, "congealed" as part of its title. It seemed to me a word better used in a slaughter house instead of a food setting. But all the others seemed to enjoy it and I will pass it along.
BLENDER CRANBERRY RELISH MOLD
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Ĺ cup cold water
Ĺ cup boiling water
1 ľ cups sugar
Ĺ orange, cut into pieces and seeded
3 cups cranberries
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in blender container,
allow to stand while assembling other ingredients. Blend
on low setting for two to three seconds. Add boiling water; process
same setting until gelatin dissolves. If gelatin granules cling to container,
use a rubber spatula to push them into the mixture. Add sugar and
orange and continue to process, with the setting at High until orange is
finely chopped. Add cranberries. Process until cranberries are finely
chopped. Turn into individual molds or 5-cup mold or bowl. Chill until
firm. Unmold on lettuce for a bright holiday salad.
It took a little over an hour for us to gorge our way through the Thanksgiving table. What started off being a work of art and a time of plenty leaves now only empty feelings. The jumble of dirty plates, sticky silverware, and half-melted ice cubes intertwined with mints leaves, I personally think, is a sorry sight. A view even worse than a Christmas tree after all the presents have been open. The Thanksgiving table which brought us forth to be with one another, in its joy, bounty, happiness, and sense of wealth, has now dismissed us all and we leave it not as a family, but individuals to ruminate each in their own way. The girl cousins started a gentle, low argument level game of cards, the women relaxed in the kitchen smoking a couple of cigarettes before stating the chore of cleaning, and the men lounge about taking every space in the den with a football game blaring out of the television.
This was the post Cuban missile crisis years, and there abounded a substantial rumor that to retaliate for what the United states did to Cuba, its leader, Fidel Castro was using high-powered television waves to jam the signals in the Southern States. There was no cable at this time and everyone had a television antenna. Even the best directional antenna in those days was marginal at best if you lived on the fringe areas of the broadcasting tower, and often you were blessed with shadows, double images, and snow. Arthurís antenna must have been one of the first produced. The poor thing shown signs of rust, and kind of swayed a bit off to one side. Arthurís reception was mediocre at best.
For lack of anything else to do I wandered into the den with my father on the couch, Arthur in his chair, and the various sons-in-laws stretched all about. I could see a look of aggravation on my fatherís face as he strained to make heads or tails of the football game in amid the static. Finally unable to contain himself longer, Dad looked over at Arthur and asked why he did not break down and buy a new antenna. Arthur snorted and expounded on the virtues of his antenna which he declared had not been up long enough to void the warranty. He continued to retort that the static was a result of either a bird, which had taken a temporary roost on the antenna, or that fool Castro was jamming the signals again.
We all squinted through the static watching the ball travel up and down the field and soon it was time for the game to be over. In the last seconds one of the teamís quarterback faded to his right and threw a long pass, which if completed, would have won the game. We all leaned forward in anticipation, and just as the ball was in its apex, WHAM!! A horrible hissing and grating noise blew forth from the television and the screen went out displaying all sorts of white, black and grey dots and squiggles. Everybody moaned, and with that, Arthur jumped out of his chair, pointed an accusing finger at the TV and yelled, "THAT GODDAMNED CASTRO."
Mom, Sister, and the older cousins hearing the menís ruckus knew that it was now time for the desert. We all were warned at the table to leave some room for desert. We did not take desert at the table, but just wherever we sat. There were usually two or maybe three items to choose from, but almost everyone opted for the pecan pie. No one could resist its sweet and nutty flavor, and the ones with a bit more courage took it a la mode, which added a sweeping taste of vanilla.
Georgia Pecan (Pee-can) Pie
3/4th cup of Karo Syurp
3/4th cup of sugar
1 cup pecans
1 tea. of vanilla
2 tablespoons of real butter
and a frozen pie shell slightly baked.
Combine all ingredients, hand stirring only. Put into pie shell and
Bake in the 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.
If you like a really sweet pie change the syrup and sugar to
One cup each.
The few men that were left alive after dinner, the pie did them in, and all were slacked mouthed and snoring. I became bored and even tried to help clear the table, but hundred year old dishes and my slippery fingers did not get along well together, so I went outside to play. I kicked the football, climbed some trees, and tested my bravery chunking dirt clogs at the two or three remaining waspís nest hanging from the eves of the carport.
Soon I heard Mom call; it was time to go. I was herded into the bathroom so we would not have to stop on our way back and to wash the dirt from my hands. On my way in Mom gave me orders to make sure I gave everyone a hug, and to tell Sister how much I enjoyed the dinner. So, as we gathered at the stoop, I hugged all, sweetly told Sister how I enjoyed the Thanksgiving, and everyone smiled at the thought there might just be some hope for me yet.
As we left, turning on to College drive, sister Jean and I got the warning that none of our usual high jinx from the back seat would not be tolerated, but it was unnecessary for Jean conked out about three minutes later. I had no one to aggravate. We mostly drove back in silence everyone being sort of sad the day was finished, except me because I knew in several short weeks it would be CHRISTMAS.