Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in Poland and is not really celebrated, except by American ex-pats, but many of the same foods typically associated with this Western holiday are enjoyed year-round. Laura has already started planning our Thanksgiving feast. This year it’s our turn to host “the kids” for Thanksgiving since they’ll be going to our son-in-law’s parents for Christmas. Next year we’ll switch and I’m sure that’s similar to many families in the interest of fairness. We’re not sure yet how many chairs will be occupied around the table since we always cast a net out among our friends and our kids’ friends for anyone who is facing the prospect of spending this holiday alone...”stray cats” as we call them affectionately.
Most of our Thanksgiving dinners were spent with Peter’s parents. Laura took over the lead for preparing the feasts very soon after we got married. So she was in control of the menu. The early years featured dishes that she grew up with, prepared by her Mom and Grandmothers. But as she gained more experience and as our taste preferences changed, our menu slowly evolved. Several decades later we have pretty much established our own traditional Thanksgiving menu. But our list of delicacies can vary as she has been adding new dishes and new recipes to the “groaning board” - most of the time with enthusiastic acceptance.
This year we’ve decided to cut back a bit on the number of dishes. It’s just getting to be too much work and since most of our family seems to be on a carb-free diet this year, Thanksgiving Day will be a designated “cheat day,” but we want to minimize the left overs so that we’re not tempted by a week’s worth of stuffing and pumpkin pie. In the theme of the recent Presidential election, Laura created a “ballot” of dishes we’ve prepared in past years, and everyone got to vote for their favorite versions of sides, relishes, vegetables and desserts – one each. Of course, the turkey and stuffing were non-negotiable.
The turkey has already been procured and is resting in the freezer. Laura’s brand of choice is the Butterball since 35+ years of experience has established a comfort level that’s impossible to argue with. Last week several days were spent pouring over the food ads from the newspaper searching for the best price. I’m not sure why we put so much effort into trying to save ten cents a pound, but it is what it is.
One of Peter’s tasks is to choose the wine...and every year it’s a big debate – with himself! There will be hours of research on line, multiple visits to his favorite wine store, tastings, discussions and more tastings. More often than not we end up with a light and fruity Pinot Noir from Oregon, but this year he is leaning to one of the new and dry Rose’s from France. But then there was this slight sweet Pinot Gris a few years back from Austria that was truly memorable, but then again...
However you celebrate Thanksgiving in your family, it seems that there’s no real one traditional menu any more...culinary traditions vary from family to family as each cook’s version has evolved over the years. Each family’s Thanksgiving table usually showcases one or more family favorites...some beloved by all and some favored by just one or two. It’s all about compromise. For instance, Peter is not a fan of green beans sauced with cream of mushroom soup, or lime green jello with cream cheese, but if the others don’t mind my jellied cranberry sauce - right out of the can, then everyone is a winner.
In any event, here is one of Peter’s Mom’s turkey recipes. We published it in this space last year but it’s good enough to share again. Frankly, we’re not sure if it is Polish or not, but we can keep that secret among ourselves. And besides, you could always add a little fresh dill to the stuffing mix, and voila – it immediately becomes a Polish-style stuffing!
One 14 to 16 pound turkey
½ cup butter, melted
6 slices white bread
¾ cup milk
Your turkey’s liver, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs separated
½ cup raisins
3 tablespoons almonds, peeled and slivered
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon sugar
One dash Allspice
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup of breadcrumbs
Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze out the liquid well. butter, egg yolks raisins, almonds and spices. Beat the egg whites with salt until stiff. Fold into the stuffing mix a scoop at a time, alternating with the bread crumbs. Mix lightly.
Stuff the neck and body cavities and close with skewers. Brush with butter. Place in the oven which has been preheated to 450 degrees. Drop the thermostat to 325 degrees and roast about 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Baste skin frequently with the drippings. Sprinkle skin with salt about half way. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to gauge doneness (160 degrees) making sure the probe is set in the meat and not in the stuffing. There are a ton of recipes out there for roasting turkey ...your favorite method will be great, as long as you use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.