Thanksgiving was always a fun time for us. Most years we would eat (on Friday) with our great Manhattanite friends the McCullochs on the Cape, at their house in Dennis or ours in West Falmouth. Our families met when their five-year-old girls (Keitt and I) began swimming lessons together at the redoubtable Mr. Tyler’s in East Dennis. (I read that Mr. Tyler retired in 2010 after an incredible 47 years in the business!)
The meal was simple and elegant, accompanied by linen, silver and candles at both houses. Lots of wine, lots of chatter. Occasionally, songs, as both Dads played guitar and loved to sing.
Yesterday I outlined the SueG principles of preparing turkey, stuffing and gravy. Today we will discuss the rest of the meal. It won’t take long.
Simply the only way to do cranberries — the recipe and slight variants can be found everywhere on the Internet. Don’t even dream about serving the canned stuff, it is not done. Copious orange zest gives this cranberry sauce lovely texture. SueG served this in a beautiful silver Paul Revere bowl, so I do, too.
1 bag of cranberries
1 cup orange juice (or juice from one orange)
1 cup sugar (you could reduce this as far down as 1/2 cup if you wish — SueG always used 1 cup)
Grated orange zest from one orange
Combine the above in a saucepan (the grating of orange zest is the pain on this one, be careful of your tender knuckles). Stir. Let boil and then reduce heat, simmering over low heat for an hour or until all the cranberries have popped and merged together.
SueG might vary her Thanksgiving veggies from year to year. Suffice to say, homemade mashed potatoes were essential (secret ingredient cream cheese along with lots of butter, salt, pepper and a bit of milk), the ultimate platform for gravy, maybe a baked sweet potato or yam or two, often frozen green peas (the bright green that does not quit) but more likely: fresh green beans, done al dente. Likely absent:Rolls (she would consider these excessive carbohydrates). Pickles (we didn’t do pickles). Butternut squash (I suspect she didn’t like it). Salad. (SueG did not approve of salad on Thanksgiving.)
She also did not believe in excessive numbers of side dishes. A greater than average number on Thanksgiving, to be sure, but not an endless array as one sees on some holiday tables. She liked to keep things manageable and there was always more than enough to stuff everyone. And it was OK to gorge on holidays.
Always pies (sans ice cream), always homemade, always with whipped cream. (For the purposes of this blog, whenever I mention whipped cream, it is the homemade variety.)
SueG would make the classic pumpkin pie recipe from the back of the can of pumpkin. Into the pumpkin mixture, she would add an incredible amount of crushed cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon on top, so much so that the pumpkin mixture would end up an odd color (kind of brown). Not to worry — she deemed that dark orange/brown color acceptable — even welcome — for Thanksgiving so no paint was added to adjust the hue.
A note about pie crusts. Nowadays there has been a surge of home cooks who labor to make pie crust from scratch with the chopped up chunks of cold butter and using that weird tool to cut the butter into the flour. (Don’t try this if you are on the hook for the rest of the meal, too.) More power to them, at least if the result tastes good and the guests are appropriately impressed. Not SueG.
This was an area where a modern convenience –the prepared Pillsbury pie crusts that come in the red box in the dairy section (NOT frozen pie crust and NOT the graham cracker ones in the aluminum shells…God no) were perfectly tasty — as good as homemade, and therefore to be used. I heartily endorse this shortcut. I can make two pies in a fraction of the time it would take to make one with homemade crust. I make pumpkin pie (the only occasion on which I eat it) and something called Derby pie, which is basically a brown-sugar-heavy chocolate chip cookie with a crust. (Heaven with a generous dollop of vanilla-scented whipped cream!)
I never make apple pie as I don’t like it. I exercise my SueG-given right not to make things I don’t like.
TIP: When using a prepared pie crust, keep it in the freezer (though you do not buy it frozen) until you’re ready to use it. These crusts warm up very quickly and you want them to be a bit stiff when you delicately unfold them to line the pie dish. Don’t forget the cute fork imprints around the edge. If they are a little uneven, your crust will look plausibly homemade, and there is absolutely no reason to confess it isn’t.