In the olden days
1940-41-42 in Northern Colorado at Grandma and Grandpa's house
My Grandpa and Grandma raised chickens and sold the eggs for income. They also raised a few turkeys. One of the turkeys was "Grandma's turkey for Thanksgiving" and got fed extra special. When it came time for the old gentle unsuspecting turkey to meet his demise, Grandpa would issue a small "sorry" and chop its head off, dunk it in a big pail of boiling water just for a few seconds to loosen the feathers, and then hang it up on a hook and start plucking the feathers. Every once in a while he would dunk the turkey back in the hot water to loosen more feathers. Then he would singe the pinfeathers and wipe it down with a damp towel, hang it in the smoke house that contained coal, but was hardly ever used for smoking, except for a few times in the fall, when the pig was butchered and ham and bacon was smoked. (But that is a much different story!) I remember gathering some prized pretty turkey feathers for keeping.
That turkey hung for about five days before Thanksgiving to "cure" and in the cool and cold Colorado November days, it was well refrigerated. It was almost a ceremony when Grandpa brought the big turkey into the basement of the house that they lived in for many years. Grandma had her big white electric turkey oven all ready to receive the bird after she stuck the turkey in the sink and washed inside and out with soda and water.
She had the dressing (stuffing) made, which took days to fix. The homemade bread was dried in the oven or on top of the table, broken into pieces and put into a big bowl. Then she would boil the giblets, chop them up, chop the onions and celery. Add lots of sage and lots of pepper, pour the boiling broth from the giblets over the dried bread, put a big plate and one of her dish towels on the top of the bowl to let the bread soak up the broth.
Early, early in the morning Grandpa would help her stuff the turkey and get it situated in the roaster pan, baste it with butter and close the lid, and turn on the knob to the roaster oven. (I can see Grandma doing this and standing back with her hands clasped as in a prayer, as if to say, "I am done with my part, now do your part.") It was slow roasted and took about 6 to 8 hours. I loved the smells in Grandma's kitchen, especially the wonderful smell of that turkey roasting.
The potatoes had to be peeled and cut in quarters, the yams peeled and put in the special bowl, with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup on top ready for the oven. The big marshmallows were resting on the cupboard ready to be put on about an hour before the Thanksgiving dinner was ready. (No miniature marshmallows in those days!)
Grandma began her baking early in the week, homemade rolls, the pumpkin pies along with some apple pies and a couple cherry pies. The pumpkin she bought in a can, but the apples, picked from their apple trees and stored, were peeled and sliced into the homemade pie crust. The cherries were picked, pitted and canned earlier in the year so that she would pour the juice into a pan and thicken it with tapioca, sweeten it with sugar (to taste) and pour it into another waiting pie crust, another crust carefully placed on the top, sprinkled with sugar and baked in her kerosene oven along with the apple pies.
The china dishes and the real silverware were taken from the china cabinet, where it had been stored since last Christmas, washed by hand and rinsed with boiling water from the tea kettle that sat idling on the stove, dried with grandma's whiter than white tea towels. The china plates, carefully stacked on the kitchen table, waiting for the big round wood dining room table, that stood in the living room, to have the big wooden leaves put in it. The white linen table cloth with napkins, unfolded and placed on top of the table had been carefully washed in the old washing machine and rinsed in boiling hot water and hung on the line to dry, ironed and folded and put away for it's next big event. I loved helping her and my mom and aunts set the table. Everything was picture perfect when we got through -- white napkins underneath gleaming silverware, the sparkling water glasses above the white napkin. The salt and pepper shaker were china turkeys -- two sets, one at each end of the table. The churned butter, Grandma's wonderful cherry jam and apple butter were in pretty crystal bowls, and spiced peaches and pickled apples in other beautiful bowls.
The salad was Waldorf apple salad. The apples where diced just right, with the peeling on, the celery was sliced and the walnuts crushed just a little. She added canned pineapple. She carefully folded in the homemade whipped cream into the salad at the very last minute. I often thought I would love to eat just that for my dinner sometime. It was always put in a special bowl just for the Waldorf salad. I inherited that bowl.
The cranberries were hand-ground in an old cast iron grinder, (probably my Uncle Marvin's job) mixed with lots of sugar. In later years that cranberry salad became and still is, a mainstay in my house hold (the recipe is in the recipe section) and I do make a meal of this quite often!
The turkey was taken from the electric oven, put on a large platter and either Grandpa, or my Dad or Uncle Norman, would carve the turkey while Grandma, with the help of the aunts, made the gravy. The sliced turkey was put in the place of honor, in the middle of the table.
My relatives, one aunt, two great aunts, three uncles, two great uncles, three cousins, Mom and Dad and my sister Ginger and my brother John, arrived all dressed in our very best. Grandma with her very best dress on with her clean ironed, feed sack apron, and Grandpa with his new denim bib overalls and gleaming white shirt underneath, gathered around the table to wait for Grandpa or Grandma to say Grace. Turkey was passed first, then the mashed potatoes, with butter melted over the top, Grandma's great gravy, passed next, and then the rest of the food was passed to each one. Plates were piled high and silverware clattering, not too many words were said, except for "Please pass the ..."
Everyone "stuffed to the gills" sat back and talked about old times, current times and the war (WWII). Grandma would remind everyone that there was pumpkin, apple and cherry pie with whipped cream for anyone that wanted dessert. One by one, usually my Dad first, would have a slice of pumpkin pie with lots whipped cream, and come back for apple pie later. I always picked her cherry pie and I would to this day pick cherry pie. To replace the cherry pies in Alaska when I first came here, I started making rhubarb custard pie -- a close second to Grandma's cherry pie.
Dishes washed by hand and dried with the embroidered tea towels, the silverware carefully dried, and everything put away in the china cabinet, Grandma would get out her candy making pans and all the aunts would start making fudge -- the old fashioned way -- boiling to a certain stage, beating it until it was about "set" and poured into well buttered square pans. They made Divinity and one time attempted taffy. I do not know the story behind this, except I can hear my Mom say, "we are NOT making taffy," in the years that followed. The candy was stored for Christmas time. There was lots of laughter, and chattering by everyone who sat around with full tummies on a great, somewhat cold, snowy, Thanksgiving Day in northern Colorado.
The "Grannie Annie" Cook Book Series includes: "Grannie Annie's Cookin' on the Woodstove"; "Grannie Annie's Cookin' at the Homestead"; "Grannie Annie's Cookin' Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters"; and "Grannie Annie's Eat Dessert First." They are available at Fireweed Herb Garden and Gifts in Kenai and M & M Market in Nikiski.