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Don’t Mess with My Turkey

Keeping it real

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TRADITION! Shiny and new is not the vibe on Thanksgiving. (Photo: behance.net/runamokstudios)

Thanksgiving: It’s a hard holiday to mess with. And still, every once and a while we try. 

One Buzz reader, a volunteer and mother of a daughter in college who prefers to remain anonymous, remembers being in her early twenties and offering to bring rolls to a friend’s Thanksgiving gathering. “Feeling fancy,” she says, “I decided to house them in a puff pastry cornucopia featured in [the] Martha Stewart [magazine]. Millennials have Pinterest to make them feel inadequate. We had Martha.

“To make the cornucopia, you had to make a cone form out of foil, and then wrap strips of pastry around it. Needless to say, it was a disaster. The top burned, the bottom was raw, there were big gaps and random poofs. The whole mess went into the garbage.”

Lisa Myers’ family tried one year to make a kosher Thanksgiving for her grandmother, who was coming to town from Pennsylvania for the holiday. “None of us keep kosher,” she says, “and usually Thanksgiving is so filled with butter and cream, and we put sausage in our stuffing. But my grandmother kept strict kosher, and she was not only religious but also superstitious, so if you did something wrong, something bad would happen. So Thanksgiving had to be kosher.”

Lisa’s sister came in early from California and did an advance test run, taking cream and butter out of it all (kosher rules dictate no mixing of milk and meat). “She substituted everything,” Lisa says, “even that string bean thing.”

On Thanksgiving, with 20-ish family members including grandma at Lisa’s house, they served the kosher dinner. But first, there was a little bowl of pine nuts on the table. “My grandmother is eating and talking,” Lisa says, “and then my sister serves everything, and my grandmother says, ‘I am so full from those nuts I can’t eat another thing.’ We all just looked at each other and laughed. She had no idea how much trouble everyone went to.”

Barbara Trautner’s earliest attempt at making Thanksgiving actually went well. It was her first Thanksgiving spent in Charlottesville, VA, with her boyfriend (now husband) Kevin, and she offered to make a small dinner for him and his roommate. 

“Kevin felt very positive the only possible way to do this was to have his mother’s cornbread stuffing. So he called his mother [Carlene Kalokathis], and in his shaky, crazy, bad writing – because he went to both medical school and law school – he wrote down the recipe on an index card.” The highlight of Barbara’s little dinner was her future mother-in-law’s stuffing. Twenty-something years later, Carlene’s Cornbread Stuffing is still on the Trautner table, and Barbara still works from the same index card, scribbled on in 1993. “All of my mother-in-law’s recipes are delicious,” Barbara says, “and they all start with a stick of butter.” 

The funny part of that first holiday was Kevin’s roommate’s reaction to it. “I made a turkey breast as opposed to a whole turkey,” Barbara says. “As I was slicing and carving, the roommate was eating. I would slice, and he would eat.” It was a far cry from the table Barbara’s mother, Nancy Wells, sets. “My mom does the most beautiful floral arrangements for the whole length of the table, and it’s the best part of the meal. It’s not cooking, but she’s preparing the table that makes it so nice for us all. Apparently, that year my turkey was just irresistible.” So much for sitting down to the table in 1993, although the Wells and Trautner families have had many years of beautiful dinners – and beautifully carved turkeys – to make up for it.

If you’re feeling up to adding a new, super traditional twist to your family’s table, Barbara shares her mother-in-law’s treasured cornbread recipe here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Carlene’s Very Traditional Cornbread Stuffing

1 ½ cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup butter
8 inch-by-8 inch pan of cornbread, left out overnight, then crumbled
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ to 1 teaspoon dried sage (depending on your taste)
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup chicken broth

Butter an 8 inch-by-8-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and onion, and sauté until the vegetables are soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the crumbled cornbread, then the parsley, sage, thyme, salt, pepper, and eggs. Add the chicken broth. Transfer to the buttered baking dish and bake for ½ hour.

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