Thanksgiving, a time to give thanks and, let’s face it, a time to stuff our faces. The Thanksgiving meal is one you can screw up. It’s no accident that there are a dozen side dishes that accompany the turkey. We can’t just have turkey, mashed potatoes, and some green beans. No!
We must have sweet potatoes, too, with gooey marshmallow sweetness. The green beans must be lathered in a funky mushroom sauce with fried onions. It’s the only time this dish appears on any menu. I wouldn’t touch that dish when I was a kid. There’s stuffing prepared in all manner of ways, with fruits and nuts and sausages, which don’t belong by the way, especially with raisins. This is truly unthinkable. The cranberry sauce, of course, gets pecked at. A few people bother with it. Hot rolls, salad, another salad, veggies, olives, bread pudding, corn, cornbread, a mystery casserole. Just make sure there’s not one free space on the table and you’ve succeeded.
In fact, it’s this time of year that you’ll use that second oven you have. Yes, you need a second oven on Thanksgiving. Not that I’ve ever had one. Everything revolving around the grand turkey. Everything must be timed just right and be presented on the table, piping hot, ready to be devoured. Sometimes, in all this lengthy preparation, the turkey is neglected or its cooking time miscalculated and the near disaster of your meal has happened and there’s no possibility of undoing it. Your turkey is dry and tastes like pasty cardboard. All that hard work and thoughtful planning, a wasted effort.
There’s only one thing, and one thing only that can salvage this meal: The Gravy! Delicious gravy with perfect smoothness and consistency can transform a Thanksgiving meal from ordinary to extraordinary. Whether your turkey is dry or cooked to perfection, your side dishes cold or rewarding, the gravy will bring a mix of elation and pause to your family and guests.
The gravy comes together in the final hour; in my mother’s kitchen, a time of great mystery and tension. How would it turn out this year? Would it be as good as last year? Would it be a disaster? With lots of stirring, salt, pepper, water, flour, milk, and last but not least, a little magic and artistry, gravy is served.
After much rustling and passing, sometimes around two tables, a kids’ table when younger, my family and friends get situated, all the waiting for the meal has taken its toll, and finally, a full plate of food. The final touch is the gravy, of course, generous ladles of gravy.
A hush envelopes the room, conversation slows. Then you’ll hear, “Mom, this is good gravy. Reeaaallly good.” Everyone agrees and everyone wants more. The gravy is passed around until, “Is this the last of the gravy?” If you’re lucky, there’s more on the stove. Otherwise, well…Thanksgiving might as well be over. I decide I don’t really want that third helping of mashed potatoes after all. Better save room for pie.
I never learned how to properly make gravy. In the times that I’ve made the complete Thanksgiving dinner, the gravy has been hit or miss, and never as good as my mother’s. Oh, I should have paid more attention. Gravy, I took you for granted. My mother does not cook the Thanksgiving meal anymore, and she shouldn’t. I have a feeling from here on out, my sisters and I will be comparing notes in our mission to make gravy like we remember.
Photo credit: theguardian.com