Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

The concept behind Thanksgiving isn’t unique to America. Celebrations of thanks are world-wide and have been practiced since people first realized they had lucked out through another tough time. The first American Thanksgiving is credited to the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, in 1621. More than likely, they actually held a harvest celebration. They needed to. They almost perished the first year they were in the “New World.” It didn’t become a proclaimed American holiday until more than 200 years later.

Whatever. There are a few things to remember about American Thanksgiving. First, and foremost, it is a day to give thanks for the blessings in our life. No matter how bad things seem, there is always something for which to be thankful. Second, the National Turkey Federation is really thankful for the fourth Thursday of every November. And third, Thanksgiving is about traditions, particularly family traditions. 

Given any family in America, there will be something unique about the traditions they follow in celebrating tomorrow.  Usually it involves the food served. When we lived on the Gulf Coast I experienced one of the most… umm… creative turkey dressings ever. My co-workers raved about it, so at the office Thanksgiving lunch I gave it a try. From the outset, let me just say I’m not wild about cornbread stuffing to begin with, but to mix  oysters into it was more than I could handle. (People on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana believe oysters, and any oyster byproduct, are one of the major food groups.)

New cover for the grill, just built last week for the turkey

Our family’s tradition involves cooking the turkeys. Yes, I used a plural there. Even though there are rarely more than six of us at the meal, we cook two turkeys. The bigger of the two is your standard, stuff it full of bread dressing, pop it in the oven, bake until nobody in the house can wait any longer type of turkey. The second, smaller bird is our weird family tradition.

Actually, the second turkey tradition isn’t all that old for our family, maybe ten years, or so. It came about because I like to barbecue. On a whim, I tried barbecuing a whole turkey. Of course, I did the first one early in the year, when the temperatures were somewhat moderate. It tasted so good, we decided to do another one on Thanksgiving. (Yes, it is cold and snowy in November. We have a covered area for the grill, and my wife made a wonderful insulating blanket for it - necessity is a mother.) Since that year, the annual question from the kids is, “Dad’s going to do one on the grill, right?”   

The fires start early and go all day to BBQ turkey

To be honest, I’m not so sure it’s the smoked turkey the family enjoys so much, or if watching the old man freeze his cajones off in the effort is more entertaining than football.

“Hey, Dad! Doesn’t look like there’s much smoke coming out of the grill.”

“Have you taken the temperature of the bird lately, Hon?” 

“How long since you checked the fire, Dad?”

The final product is worth the effort

Barbecued turkey is a simple affair. Aside from ensuring I don’t lose any valuable portions of my anatomy to frostbite, it mainly involves keeping enough charcoal and apple wood going to get the job done. (No propane grills are allowed anywhere near our house. Wanna cook with gas? Get back in the kitchen, ya sissy.) Prepping the bird is equally easy. Rinse and pat dry, rub a little olive oil all over the bird to help seal in the juices, sprinkle salt and pepper inside and out, tuck the wings under, and toss the bird on the grate. That’s it. We usually cook a nine or ten pound bird. While most of the leftover meat gets packed off with the kids, the old folks keep the carcass; smoked turkey soup is nothing short of phenomenal.

Whatever your traditions are, may you have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. Just remember: Friends don't let friends stuff oysters into their turkeys.

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