Thanksgiving is about eating and giving thanks for what you're eating. To say otherwise would be to bury the lead.
I acknowledge that this great American holiday also is about, secondarily, thankfulness for non-caloric blessings, such as that we have survived nearly a year the tragic absurdity of this hideous creature as president.
Talk among yourselves about him today at the dinner table. It'll be good for family serenity.
Some say Thanksgiving also is about parades on television. But those people are pitiable. The parades may be magnificent when beheld in person but, on television from a fixed camera location, seeing one is seeing all. The banality of the announcing and the commentary--it's like sitting through a Bret Bielema news conference and hearing ad nauseam about how well the team practiced during the week and that we're oh-so-close.
Happy Thanksgiving to Bret, by the way. This probably will be his last Thanksgiving in Arkansas, unless a local high school wants to take a chance on him.
Some say Thanksgiving is about football, but it's been maybe three decades since I stayed awake for an after-lunch football game on television.
Saturday--the Iron Bowl ... now that is about football. It used to be that the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Arkansas-LSU game, was about football. But that was before Bret, who so reduced the Razorbacks that CBS declared that we didn't deserve LSU as a rival and would henceforth get Missouri as our assigned rival instead.
Now even Missouri is favored by 13 points over us at our stadium on our Senior Day. Unless the Hogs get rid of Bret soon, they'll end up the underdog to UCA on the Friday after Thanksgiving on a local-access cable channel.
Back to the unburied lead--eating, which, for me, over recent decades, has been about four dishes. Just four.
Not green salad. Not fruit salad. Not sweet potatoes with marshmallows melted on top for those needing to bridge their indecision between entrée and dessert. Not cranberry sauce, which is consumed only one day a year for a reason.
And certainly not giblet gravy. There is one gravy that matters. Well, two. One is cream. The other brown. And both are made in a steaming skillet after you've fried chicken or pork chops.
Real Thanksgiving is eschewing all of that to save room for the four essences of the day.
One is smoked turkey breast, juicy and salty and pinkish from a smokehouse I won't mention except to say it operates a popular eatery for the upper crust in the Heights section of Little Rock. An oven-roasted turkey with legs and wings and dark meat and a skeleton and assorted parts crammed into a cavity--that's a tradition elevating obligation over taste, risking dryness in the dominant white-meat section and requiring a better carving knife and carving hand than mine. If I never again try to extract a turkey drumstick by hitting that magic ligament spot, it will be too soon.
The second is cornbread dressing made in a deep baking dish that produces a crisp surface and a moist, steaming center, with more eggs for fluffiness than you think wise and one more sprinkling of sage, and maybe one more after that, after you've already made one more sprinkling of sage than you thought wise. Then hit it again, for luck.
The third is once-a-year mashed potatoes. I say once-a-year because ingesting them a second time over 12 months probably would kill you. Even once is a calculated risk.
Once-a-year mashed potatoes are regular mashed potatoes with milk and butter, but also with a dollop of Duke's mayonnaise, a dollop of ranch dressing, a tablespoon or two of minced garlic and handful of shredded parmesan cheese.
If you put giblet gravy on that masterpiece, you should be sentenced to three Bret Bielema news conferences.
And the fourth ... well, here I must invoke a mother-in-law from a past life, a dear woman of reserved superiority.
I saw her once assemble a perfect pie crust, rich pumpkin pie filling and, to my curiosity, even near-alarm, a firm-tipped meringue. I thought she'd lost it--that she'd made a meringue for a cream pie, forgetting that she was baking a pumpkin pie.
Oh, no. She folded the meringue into the pie filling and produced a thick, fluffy, light-brown delicacy that she declared a "pumpkin chiffon pie." Upon swallowing his first forkful, my late dad declared he'd never again see any point to eating pumpkin pie not all chiffoned-up like that.
Finally, for the right perspective on the day: There's one other thing--a life's passage--into which our family's modern Thanksgiving celebration has evolved.
Our last two Thanksgiving lunches have been enjoyed as guests at the nursing home at a table with Mom. She may think we're her siblings, which we're happy to be, as long as she's happy and we're with her.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 11/23/2017
Print Headline: All about the taste