Several weeks ago, I browsed the extensive Melissa and Doug collection at L & L Gifts while a member of their staff wrapped a wedding gift for me. I love this brand of innovative and quality toys and often shop the selection at L & L for gifts for our grandchildren.
As I browsed, I found a wonderful gift for our whole family to use during our Thanksgiving gathering this year. It is The Thanksgiving Box of Questions. This round box contains 82 cards decorated to look like a pumpkin pie. Each card has a question designed to initiate conversation around your family’s table.
I couldn’t resist this beautiful little box and when I got it home and opened it, I was very glad I didn’t even try. Its thought-provoking questions have given me a lot to think about over the last several weeks as I prepared our home for Thanksgiving.
The cards ask a wide range of questions that test your historical perspective, give an opportunity to remember past Thanksgivings, talk about the foods that we typically share during the feast and remember all the reasons we have to be thankful.
One of my favorite questions was “What do you think it would be like to leave everything behind, move to a new country and start over?” It’s hard to imagine conditions that would motivate a group of people to leave their homeland and head for an unknown and unsettled land to begin a new life. Yet that is exactly what that small group of Pilgrims did. First, they left England for Holland in search of religious freedom. Many of these folks were farmers in England and Holland was a small country and farmland was in short supply. When they received a grant for land near the mouth of the Hudson River for a colony, the lure of land for farming and freedom to worship was too much to resist. After overcoming many challenges, they made their way to this new world. After arriving they overcame even more obstacles in surviving a miserable winter, losing many colonists to deaths from scurvy, pneumonia and typhus, and then learning how to successfully farm in this new land. Pilgrim Edward Winslow said in his journal that after “our harvest being gotten in our governor sent four men on fowling that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.” The ability to celebrate and be thankful in the wake of all the difficulties they had experienced says so much about the character and attitude of these brave folks.
Another question for discussion from the box that triggered a great memory for me was “What is your funniest Thanksgiving story?” Mine involves my mother’s desire for a new Thanksgiving tradition that was very back to basics. She heard of a farm near our home that you could go to in the early fall and pick out your Thanksgiving turkey while it was still being fattened in the poultry yard. Then the farmer would kill the bird, dress it and deliver it to your home the week of Thanksgiving. Mom thought this fresh bird would be a great advantage over a typical store-bought frozen turkey and superior to any we had ever eaten before. That morning we all smelled the aroma of the roasting bird and were too polite to even think of mentioning that it didn’t smell quite right. After saying grace, carving the bird and tasting the first bite, it was very obvious to all of us that something was very wrong with Mr. Turkey. He was very unceremoniously dumped in the garbage outside and we had our very first and only turkey-less Thanksgiving meal. My father made a few wise cracks about how glad he was that he wasn’t going to have to eat turkey leftovers for days and days and got us all laughing as we enjoyed our other traditional dishes. My family has been a real believer in Butterball turkeys ever since that day!
And that brings me to the last question I’m going to share with you from my Thanksgiving Box of Questions. “What are the most popular ways to eat leftover turkey after Thanksgiving?” I have several dishes that just have to be made the week after Thanksgiving and when we have lots of guests for the main meal, I often roast one turkey in the oven while I cook another turkey and turkey breast in a roaster in the basement so I have plenty of meat to use.
The first favorite is one I learned to make from Gregg’s mom, Marie. She would take leftover dressing and press it into a pie plate like you do a crust. Then she would fill the dressing crust with leftover chunks of turkey and cover the whole thing with gravy, pop it in the oven until it was warmed through and serve it with leftover cranberry sauce and a green salad. It was always delicious.
I also enjoy making the following turkey soup. It uses all of the bird and is reflective of my grandmother’s philosophy that every part of a turkey should be used in honor of the pilgrims. She was sure they wasted absolutely nothing!
Grandma’s Turkey Carcass Soup
1 turkey carcass, meat removed
Leftover turkey drippings if you have them
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 carrots, chopped
Celery tops, chopped finely
8 whole peppercorns
Salt and pepper to taste
Break up the carcass so it fits in your soup kettle and cover with cold water. Slowly bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Skim off any foam that comes to the top of the kettle. After skimming off the foam, add the drippings, onion, carrots, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, celery and peppercorns. Continue simmering for several hours — I usually start the broth right after lunch for an evening dinner. Add salt and pepper to taste near the end of the simmering. Remove the bones and veggies from the stock and strain through a fine mesh sieve. At this point you can either chill the stock in the refrigerator or put it back in the pot. Add your family’s favorite vegetables — I often use more chopped carrots, onions and celery along with turkey meat cut into bite sized pieces. I season the broth with poultry seasoning to intensive the flavor and then salt and pepper to taste. You can then add noodles or rice. Sometimes I just add frozen mixed vegetables to the broth and meat and just let them simmer until thoroughly cooked. After a carb-heavy feast like Thanksgiving, a soothing vegetable only soup might be just what the doctor ordered.
Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.