My late dear friend Joanne, who was always with us for Thanksgiving, wouldn’t let anyone else supervise the mashed potatoes, back in the days when we had as many as 30 people, big and small, sitting for dinner. You weren’t allowed to cut the potatoes into small pieces to hurry the boiling along, because they would get watery, you had to cook them to her exacting standard of doneness, and you had to use old-fashioned mashers. I can still see her, hard at work, in the corner of our kitchen between the stove and sink.
Joanne would have a fit if she knew we were going to eat our mashed potatoes without butter and milk.
Because two members of our family are allergic to dairy products and red meat, we’ve forgone these things at Thanksgiving in recent years. To be honest, we haven’t missed them at all. The idea of slathering a turkey with butter before roasting it now seems not only unnecessary but counterproductive: It’s better without the butter, and so is our gravy.
I used to make a cornbread-and-sausage stuffing in the old days. It was good, but hardly imaginative. The alternatives we’ve experimented with in recent years are certainly more interesting. With plenty of herbs — brought in from the garden, and by Thanksgiving, in pots on the sun porch or, of course, from the supermarket — you don’t need sausage to give a stuffing oomph; and I’ve no quarrel with chicken sausage, provided you remove the casings carefully. Other family favorites, like a roast-oyster with sorrel recipe, have been altered to address the allergy situation in recent years, too.
But some things never change. I always make gravy the way Miriam Ungerer told us to do it in The Star decades ago now, and it is terrific every time. You do, however, have to start it the night before you roast he bird. Like all good cooks, Miriam finessed her formulas as she went along. She wrote about turkey for The Star more than once, and I’ve found slightly different versions of her gravy in old clippings.
The basic idea is to cook the giblets well ahead, so you can refrigerate them and the broth overnight. The recipe is below. It’s a winner.
We are so damn fortunate to have so much to choose from for our holiday feast, aren’t we? One other Thanksgiving tradition that I think could use an update is our concept of it as a holiday that is really only about consumption (and thankfulness for what we’re consuming). Maybe we should think about foregoing something by choice this year — particularly something costly — to remind us of the economic disparities among our neighbors here on Thanksgiving. Our food pantries are busier than ever. Why should Christmas be the only giving season? The time for giving is now.
In that spirit, here is an abbreviated “how-to” for Miriam Ungerer’s “perfect” gravy. Even though it’s delicious enough that you might be tempted to claim it as your own secret recipe, this isn’t a recipe to hoard. It’s one to share:
Put all the giblets except the liver in a deep pot, along with any wing tips or turkey bones you can scrounge from the butcher. Add the usual carrot and celery, an onion stuck with two cloves, two bay leaves, thyme (more if it is fresh, less if dried), and crushed garlic and salt and pepper, as desired. Pour on a pint or half-bottle of red wine and enough water to cover it all with an inch or two to spare.
In one recipe, Miriam suggests simmering this for three hours, another time she says six. (In my case, it depends on when it is time to go to bed.) Strain the broth and refrigerate it along with the giblets, which you will chop to be added to the gravy the next day.
The following afternoon, when the turkey is done and resting on a platter before being carved, pour off as much fat from the pan as you can and set it over low heat on the stovetop. Add some of the broth to the pan and scrape up the drippings. Be vigorous. Add the chopped giblets. Let the brew simmer, then add cornstarch, which has been made into a slurry with water, and more of the broth. Do this a little at a time, checking for the desired consistency. Enjoy.