The fourth Thursday in November is observed as Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Ever since 52 pilgrims got together with their 50 Indian friends in November 1621 and decided to have a large, three-day feast to celebrate and give thanks to God for helping them pull through the rough winter in the new land, Americans have been getting together with their families and feasting.
President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War in 1863. More families are together at this time of the year than any other time or holiday. Some of this history is according to Martin Kelly, an American-history expert.
The pilgrim men and Indians went on a hunting trip to secure meat for the feasts. Wild turkeys and waterfowl were killed and roasted over a fire — there were no ovens. Lobsters, seals and deer were provided for the feast. There were no pumpkin or potato pies, as the sugar supply had been depleted.
Over 50 years ago, as I recall, this long holiday weekend was usually the time selected to grind cane and cook syrup, butcher hogs and have deer hunts if the weather permitted. Sometimes, all three were accomplished.
In 1957, we were living in Mr. Key Howard’s log cabin in the woods. On Thanksgiving Day, the Howards hosted a deer hunt on their many acres of woodlands. Many men from the area and other counties joined in the fun. Daddy always had to help with it and was in charge of the hunting dogs. My brother Tommy, 13, enjoyed the hunt, also.
Several deer were killed, and the meat was cut up and placed in piles and numbered. The men that wanted meat pulled a number and took the corresponding pile. It seemed that Daddy always ended up with the pile of neckbones!
Some hunters didn’t want any of the venison and went for the sport and fellowship with other hunters or to get out of the house while their wives slaved over the big Thanksgiving dinner! Mr. Wynn Howard usually came home with Daddy after the hunt and ate with us.
The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Mr. Key had a turkey shoot to get rid of all the turkeys his wife, Flossie, had raised that year. They had the shoot in the front lane of their home. The number of men that shot each time depended on the number of dollars Mr. Key wanted for each turkey. Each shot was a dollar. My brother always was good at shooting and winning a turkey with his accurate bull’s-eye shot. I think now, if any turkey shoots are held, a frozen turkey is the prize.
The only turkey I remember dressing was in 1962 when I was 15. C.W. and Shirley Howard had a big, fine gobbler that they wanted to stuff and roast for Thanksgiving. They asked me if I knew how to dress him. (I told him yes and asked if he wanted a pair of overalls or a dress on him!) Heck, yeah, I knew how to dress a turkey — even though I had never done one before or since.
But, Flossie Howard had shown me how to butcher hens, and a turkey was no different — just a little larger. It did not take me long to have that old gobbler cleaned and ready for them to stuff full of dressing and slide into the oven for their dinner. I certainly had rather go to the grocery store and buy a frozen one that someone else has cleaned!
We never had turkey on Thanksgiving Day when I was a child. Daddy did go turkey hunting many times, but I think it was in the spring of the year. He was a good turkey hunter and killed many through the years. We enjoyed meeting him as he rode home on Old Maude the horse, with the turkey slung across her back.
Mama sliced the breast and fried it and used the other pieces for turkey and rice or dumplings. Fried turkey breast was a gourmet meal for us and still is special today.
For Thanksgiving dinner, Mama boiled a large, fresh ham and then baked it in the oven. Platters of cat squirrels were fried golden brown. Baked macaroni-and-cheese and pork backbone with rice were made. Sweet-potato casserole, banana pudding and chocolate layer cake with the cooked icing cured our sweet cravings. A large pot of turnips or mustard greens were a must to go with other vegetables prepared for this meal.
And I can’t leave out the crusty pone of corn bread to go with the pot liquor! Oh, boy, I wish I had my mama still living and able to cook up this delicious dinner again for us! But, Lord, we know she cooked her share in her 94 years, and we are thankful for those years!
My first mother-in-law, Catherine DeLoach, taught me how to make turkey dressing. Her whole family acknowledged her cooking skills for dressing. At family dinners, they all wanted to know which pan was Catherine’s dressing. I helped and watched her many times as she added this and that until she had a dishpan full of ingredients.
After a few years, I could make it as good as she could.
I think of her often, especially at the holiday season as I remember seeing her so many times standing at the kitchen table preparing the turkey or chicken dressing for her large family to enjoy. I can imagine she is smiling down on me from above with approval as I get my dish pan and try to carry on her tradition. I am thankful that she shared her knowledge with me.
One Thanksgiving Day over 40 years ago, I decided to have a seafood dinner with all the trimmings. I fried a huge platter of shrimp we caught from the waters around Harris Neck. We asked David, our oldest son, to bless on the food. He thanked God for the turkey that we were about to eat!
Since then, no matter what else I may decide to cook on this holiday, you had better believe that the turkey will be on the table.
With another Thanksgiving Day at hand, let us all take time from the hustle and bustle of our busy daily lives and thank God for all the blessings of life, health, happiness, family, food, work, shelter and all our military men and women. Thank Him for letting us live in a land of freedom and opportunity. Remember to share your blessings with someone in need and you will be richly blessed. Wishing you all a memorable Thanksgiving Day!
I saw a cartoon that showed Santa Claus climbing out of his sleigh. The old turkey gobbler walked over to him and said, “Climb back in that sleigh and stay there until later. I am the star attraction of this month!”
Recipe for using leftover turkey:
Turkey chip bake
2 cups cooked chipped turkey
½ cup diced celery
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsps. grated onion
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
½ cup shredded cheese
1 cup or more crushed potato chips.
Combine all ingredients and pile lightly in casserole dish. Bake in oven for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Double the recipe as it is very delicious!