Passing the turkey torch (previously published, 11/2010)

Growing up, Granny always did all of the cooking, especially on the holidays. My Thanksgiving memories were of her putting her turkey in the night before on low, so it would be nice and juicy. Cornbread was made in her cast iron skillet a few days ahead so she could use it in her dressing. Homemade coconut and banana cakes were made, along with sweet potato pies – her homemade fruitcake had already soaked in blackberry wine for a few weeks by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. She made a feast – enough to feed an army and rightfully so. Her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews rolled through our house to visit throughout the day, eating a bite here, a nibble there.

On Thanksgiving morning, I would curl up in the rocking chair, as Granny tucked a quilt around my feet and turned on the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Good times, those early Thanksgiving memories.

As Granny got older, her time in the kitchen has been less. Stooped over with crippling scoliosis it was hard to lift out a huge roasting pan with a turkey.  She would try though, insisting  she would bring a full Thanksgiving when they came to visit. She’d be too worn out to even eat when she got there.

“I’ll cook Thanksgiving this year,” I announced a few years ago. “Are you sure?”Mama asked, sounding surprised. “Granny is getting too old to fool with such a big meal. I want to do this. It will help her out.”

Not even an hour later, Granny called. “Sug, your mama said you are planning on cooking Thanksgiving this year.”

“That’s right, Granny, don’t you worry about it.” I replied.

“Uh huh. You making the dressing?” she asked. I told her yes. “You making giblet gravy?” I told no, that I still didn’t know what a giblet was and didn’t want it on my dressing. “You can’t have dressing without giblet gravy,” she told me. “Then I will make some,” I sighed. “You want me to bring the turkey don’t you?” she asked. “I’m making the turkey, Granny. All I want you to bring is yourself.”

A week later, they showed up, Granny climbing out of the car, a frown on her face. “I brought some dressing just in case,” she told me.

“In case of what?” I asked.

“Yours ain’t fit to eat,” she said. Mama just shook her head, silently urging me not to start an argument. Accepting an early defeat and inevitable criticism, I followed my family into the house.

Granny paused long enough to take in the serving dishes piled high on the kitchen island, the turkey resting on the stove. She eyed a pot on the back burner. “That giblet gravy?” she inquired. I nodded. I had found a recipe on the Internet and made it, much to my dismay.

All through dinner, I waited for Granny to say something – how my dressing didn’t have enough sage, how I used mini-marshmallows on the sweet potato soufflé instead of the large, or the fact that instead of canned cranberry sauce, I made mine from fresh cranberries. Nothing. For once, the old gal was silent and ate without complaint.

When the dinner was finished and it was time for dessert, Granny eyed my pound cake. “That ain’t my recipe,” she noted. “No, Granny, I tweaked one I had in an old cookbook.”

“It’s brown, not yellow,” she snorted. Here it comes, I thought. “It’s the brown sugar in it, Granny.”

“I ain’t never heard of brown sugar in a pound cake,” she muttered, taking a piece anyway. I did not know until later she had a cake in the back of the car in case mine was not to her liking.

She ate it, and said nothing.

The next day, Mama called. “Granny wants that pound cake recipe.”

“Are you serious?”

“I am serious – she said that was the best darn pound cake she’s ever eaten. She never would have thought to put brown sugar in it,” Mama said. “In fact – and are you sitting down? – she said, and I quote, you did a fine job on the Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Really?” For Granny to say something nice, well, that was…well, that was truly a first.

“She did. She said you were as good of a cook as she is, maybe even better,” Mama said. “But of course, Granny giveth and Granny taketh away – she took all the credit because she said she taught you everything you know about cooking.”

With that admission, the cast-iron skillet was passed and the turkey duties are now mine.

But Granny still brings a pan of dressing with her. Just in case.

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