Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Vagary of Gravery

With the Thanksgiving feast and Black Friday behind us and the weekend still stretching ahead I’d like to take the opportunity to relay one last holiday food disaster story.

I should begin by explaining that I come from a long line of women who have pulled off Thanksgiving cooking capers worthy of anyone’s holiday blooper reel.

I could go back for untold generations but my personal knowledge of this familial gene begins sometime in the late 50s with my Grandmother. She was mashing the Thanksgiving potatoes and inadvertently used eggnog instead of milk. It’s one of those rare clear memories I have from childhood: the look on her face the moment she realized what she had just done – shock - followed immediately by convulsing laughter as she tried to explain to my mother and two aunts what she had done. When the three sisters finally comprehended her explanation they too collapsed into the giggles. After stirring in a bit more salt and butter they were piled  high in a bowl as there was no time, or potatoes, for a do-over. I don’t remember how they tasted but I do savor the memory of the story.  The error was masked with copious amounts of gravy, everybody’s favorite Thanksgiving food group.

Image result for vats of turkey gravy

You can imagine my surprise when, over a half century later, I discovered that  somebody actually had a recipe for this potato dish:

St. Anthony's Eggnog Mashed PotatoesSt. Anthony’s Eggnog Mashed Potatoes: 60 years later the Internet proves again there’s nothing new under the sun

Then there was the time in the 60’s when my mother stuffed her 20 lb. turkey with her famous dressing. (side note: it was not only acceptable to put the ‘stuffing’ inside the bird way back then, it was expected – the food police didn’t arrive on the scene with their horror stories of e-coli poisoning until sometime in the late 70s. However even then cooks across the land were admonished to never, ever stuff the bird the night before due to pathogens lurking in the fowl cavity. Hence all the 5:30 AM kitchen capers.) But back to my story: she popped that behemoth in the oven and cooked it for hours. Checking in around the half way mark she noted it was browning rather quickly, basted it and popped it back in. At the next basting, now 3/4 of the way through the cooking time, it was REALLY browned.

It was at this point that my mother discovered that instead of hitting the “oven” button after setting the temperature she hit the BROIL setting.

Related image Nice try with grapes and currents: nobody will notice that the turkey has lost its white privilege

Dinner was delayed that year, as the turkey bottom was allowed to catch up a bit with the turkey top, and the meat was a bit dryer than usual. The error was masked by copious amounts of gravy.

So you can see why every girl in my family was trained in the art of making copious amounts of gravy, as you never knew when it would be required. This proved to be a valuable skill that came in quite handy when we started spending Christmas at my in-laws. Mind you, this was a family of 9 children that over time expanded exponentially with spouses and grandchildren along with an ever changing band of other odd – in both senses of the word – blood relatives, non-blood relatives of relatives and strays with nowhere else to go. I’ve mentioned frequently that my MIL was a saint and this was just one of the reasons. Her normal holiday headcount was between 35-45. But for all her good points, and they were many, cooking was not her strongest suit. And her mother had clearly failed in teaching her how to make enough gravy for an entire battalion. What gravy she made was first rate but there was simply never enough. It always ran out long before the masses had all been fed.

And that’s how I came to be known as the Gravy Queen. I don’t remember when I was first brave enough to volunteer to take over gravy detail but it was decades ago and I’ve been at it every Christmas since. I used to make it right in the humongous turkey roaster that my MIL cooked her giant turkey in.

A vintage Magnalite special covered roasting pan

Now days SIL uses the same pan but rests the bird on a bed of carrots, celery and onions, so the roasting juices need to be strained before the gravy making can commence. I pulled out the old pasta strainer from its normal storage spot among the multitude of assorted pans in the cupboard of the old homestead, now occupied by BIL and his wife. It was already nestled in a large pan so I placed both of them in the sink, to prevent splatters, and proceeded as usual to strain the drippings. Imagine my horror upon discovering that the “pan” under the strainer was actually…another larger pasta strainer. Nothing is ever as it seems in the second generation Raj household. I should know that by now.

Despite having just poured all the precious bodily fluids down the drain, all I could do was laugh, which set off my sisters-in-law and a couple of assorted nieces who were also in the kitchen. It was Thanksgiving déja vu.

But what to do now? Gravy, the great equalizer, appeared to be in jeopardy. Not to worry, the Gravy Queen will not let you down. Two sticks of butter, 3 boxes of Swanson’s chicken broth (low sodium, because it’s better) extra salt and pepper, the standard flour/water slurry (because roux is far too complicated for gravy in quantity)

Related image

whisk, whisk whisk, add juices from the resting bird and we had ourselves a big hunkin’ vat of gravy. Disaster averted.  Not as good as usual but pretty darned good if I do say so. And the hoards all agreed.

Image result for turkey gravy by the gallon

So what have learned?

Neither the turkey nor the potatoes are the key ingredient.

Barry, bagging potatoes for the homeless, Thanksgiving 2018

Take the gravy away and you’ve not nuthin’.

Image result for trump in afghanistan serving thanksgiving dinnerVSGPDJT serving up the gravy to our troops in Afghanistan, Thanksgiving, 2019