Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
To hear some people speak of the Thanksgiving Holiday, you’d get the impression that their impression is that the word is spelled Thank-FULL-ness! The whole concept seems to be: This is the Day (or weekend) that we EAT! As in stuff ourselves, as in Gobble-Gobble (not the turkey sound), as in “Let the ladies go for their major shopping, while we guys lie on the sofa, watch football, and EAT!”
The idea, of course, is that the aforesaid ladies have slaved in the hot kitchens for weeks preparing all the food required for Thanksgiving weekend, to earn their men’s eternal (well, until next year) gratitude so as to earn that Giant Shopping Spree.
We will tell them who won the ball games when they come dragging in after dark, exhausted from a day competing with hordes of other women, and go unload the cars while they fix us suppers of leftovers.
When I was a boy, we’d head for deer camp by midafternoon Thanksgiving Day, and stay there until late Sunday night or Monday, whenever the barge ran again to get us back across the River. Obviously, we snitched (in retrospect) with maternal planning whatever pies or cakes we thought we could get away with. You know, they didn’t have all these hoity-toity sales back then. Wonder what the home ladies did for the rest of the weekend, with allus men gone?
If memory serves, the original holiday was inaugurated by the Pilgrims, or settlers in the New World, who were thankful to God for having preserved their lives, and the lives of their loved ones for the past year, as well as showing how we paid respect and gratitude to our God to the Native Americans, or Indians, who had in many cases become the close neighbors and advising survivalists. The whole idea was to thank God, and to introduce others to His Blessings. Obviously some of the settlers and/or Indians were Baptists, because the preachers proclaimed that food be served, to draw a crowd and preserve the peace.
You must understand that your Uncle Bob is NOT tee-totally against food in any form or fashion, except onions and olives, the distaste for each having been acquired during football seasons long ago, but not forgotten.
When I was young, the Brownspur Thanksgiving table would boast (for several families, now) both a wild turkey and a tame turkey, plus a homegrown ham and a venison loin. The vegetables assembled would be sweet potatoes, asparagras & green pea casserole, and I’m sure several more, but a young man didn’t waste a lot of time with those vegetables back then. The dressing (stuffing is what you do to a big buck’s head when you’re going to hang it on the wall for others to mirate over for posterity) was an art unto itself, and featured such things as giblets, gravy, oysters, cornbread and all the trimmings, so that with a thick slice of turkey on top, slathered with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce, it was a full meal in and of itself.
There would be hot fluffy homemade rolls with butter and a true assortment of homemade jellies and jams: muscadine, plum, fig, pear honey, and peach butter, just to name a few. Fancy little plates overflowing with pickled figs and peaches and okra, and one of my favorites: watermelon rind preserves!
Sitting on the dining room counters would be the desserts: pies of pecan, apple, mincemeat (with a slab of hard cheese per slice), pumpkin, scuppernong, sweet potato – all of which would be at least tasted, then designated by Uncle Sam’s or Big Robert’s wink to an alert youngster, that This’un was a candidate to go to deer camp after the coffee was served in the living room and no womenfolk were guarding the leftovers. On purpose, I later figured out! There would be cakes, too: caramel, chocolate, orange, and little folded fruit pies.
With the coffee would be little ornamental plates of divinity, pralines, homemade chocolate drops, and even some tea cakes and sugar cookies.
I’m sure I missed something there, but I do know that a big part of my prayers for a week involved food, and thanking God for those Cookin’ Ladies!