|Smoked turkey cooling down|
The earliest Thanksgivings I can remember attending were those hosted by my maternal Grandparents. They were elaborate affairs that involved my grandparents getting up at four in the morning to start cooking the turkey. Why turkeys took so long to cook back then is beyond my comprehension. If I had to guess, I suspect it would be so it was done early enough that the last few hours could be used baking other things in the oven like rolls, green bean casseroles, dressing, etc. After the meal, sometimes the adults would go out shopping for deals while we kids stayed home and played cards with our great grandmother for nickels. Although I'm sure there were sports on a television somewhere, I never recall them being a big part of our day.
In my early adolescent years, my grandparents retired and moved down to Florida. About the same time, my parents bought some land with a little cabin on it in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. So for many years, our traditions changed to focus around that setting. Mom would buy a turkey breast which she would put in the oven at more reasonable hours to cook while we went for a long hike. Our hikes often ended up down the mountain along a river where we would have a Thanksgiving weenie roast. We would build a fire, roast hotdogs for lunch and relax a bit before making the hike back up the mountain to the cabin. There we would go into a frenzy of preparations to complete a Thanksgiving supper which we often shared with local friends. These traditions, perhaps the longest kept in my lifetime thus far, went through my years of college and early years in my career.
After marriage, things begin to change due to my wife being in the medical profession. Due to the nature of wanting to have someone on call at all times, my wife would trade off with others to get every other Thanksgiving off. On the years she only had Thanksgiving day off, we would either have a Thanksgiving meal by ourselves if my parents were at the cabin, or if my parents were around, at the farm. My brother who lives near his in-law's large family in Alabama, pretty much committed his Thanksgiving days with them.
One of the things I started doing during this time frame is smoking a turkey. My wife gets a free turkey from her employer every year so finding a turkey has never been a challenge for us. My brother gave me a smoker for a birthday many years back so I have everything I need other than some woodchips and labor. It is a pretty easy thing to do overall. I stick the turkey in and light the smoker (run off of propane) and just monitor it throughout the morning to maintain a constant temperature and to replace the woodchips when they stop smoking. For a smallish turkey like the one above, It was done in maybe four and a half to five hours and by noon, everything was cleaned up.
One of the things about smoked turkey, is the smoke flavor doesn't come through until the next day. Something about cooling down smoked meat and reheating it the next day enhances the smoky goodness. Because of this trait, I will often cook the turkey a day or two in advance, choosing a nice weather day to do so, and then after it has cooled down, carve it up and put it in the fridge until the actual day of Thanksgiving arrives. This frees up the busy oven to do other things and we just heat up the turkey right before serving.
After Mom died, those years when my wife doesn't have any additional time off other than Thanksgiving day, we have taken to giving back to our community. Instead of our traditional meal at noon, we will instead go and deliver meals to the needy first and then come back and have a later Thanksgiving meal. Most things we can prepare ahead of time anyway so it never seems very rushed. We have invited others to join us over the years but fortunately, they have all had better offers to choose so it has always been a day for us to just be together as a family. More often than not we start a fire downstairs and spend the rest of the day napping, reading and playing games.
Years like this year when my wife has a few days off around the holiday, we still head down to the family cabin. While we haven't done a weenie roast down by the river in years, we still usually do a hike and then come back to fix our feast for the evening meal. With my smoked turkey already cooked and carved, it is easily taken with us for the occasion. I am letting dough rise for some rolls to bake yet before I leave along with some pumpkin pie filling all ready to go so once I get down to the cabin, I can just pour it into a crust and bake. There will be other sides like potatoes, gravy, a vegetable, cranberry sauce, etc. If our friends are available, they can come over and join us.
I don't know where the future of our traditions will head next. The only thing I can predict is that it will most likely remain about family and trying to avoid the commercialization that has happened to the holiday. Fortunately, Black Friday is becoming less relevant every year so it is easier to avoid that it once was.
I hope all those who read this have a Happy Thanksgiving with your families and traditions.
P.S. If I don't get comments approved in a timely manner or fail to respond to your blog post, I am blaming the spectacular weather for hiking and a slow internet connection in the cabin.