Some new ideas for Thanksgiving? Raise a squawk

November 15, 2006|By ROB KASPER

While paging through the "new and interesting" twists on Thanksgiving found in recent issues of glossy food magazines, I started yelling, "No! No! No!"

Later, when I cooled down, I murmured, "Maybe."

The screaming occurred as I read suggested new ways to celebrate Thanksgiving found in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking and Cook's Illustrated magazines.

With alarm I read about lemon zest swimming in the venerated turkey gravy, about cranberries mingling with the sweet potatoes, about something called a pumpkin tiramisu posing as a dessert.

This, I fumed, is heresy. Don't these apostates know that Thanksgiving is the most hallowed of holidays, the day that tradition, not newfangled innovation, should reign. It is a day we light a candle, no make that an entire candelabra, to consistency. No surprises on Thanksgiving - the same old, same old will do just fine, thank you.

I am not a stick-in-mud type who is automatically against change. Just the other day, for instance, I went along with the idea of changing our kitchen dishes from their longtime chipped-green look to something in brown. Brown, I recognize, is the "new black" in plates. I can be flexible.

But when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu, I say why mess with proven winners? You got your roast turkey with corn-bread stuffing, your mashed potatoes, your sweet potatoes, your cranberry sauce, a token salad, the hominy casserole, the hated brussels sprouts and a plethora of pies.

This fare was good enough for the Pilgrims. It is, I have been assured by practitioners in the Mel Gibson school of rewritten history, exactly what the Miles Standish crowd would have cooked had those folks had access to quality supermarkets.

I am not against culinary research. But if you want to experiment with collard cobbler, I say do so on a dreary Monday night, not during a fabled food holiday.

All this innovation can stir up trouble and leave a Thanksgiving grocery shopper scratching his head. Take, for instance, the act of purchasing a turkey. It used to be that turkey came two ways: flabby fresh and frozen solid as a rock. Now there are so many makes and models that buying a bird can be as daunting as investing in a flat-screen television.

There are "heritage" birds. These creatures live a long life, at least for a turkey, and are antibiotic-free. Like the members of the Mayflower Society, these birds are descendants of the original Thanksgiving dinner party. They have, according to Bon Appetit, intense flavor and firm texture. But like many old-line items, they can command a pretty price, up to $10 a pound.

Then there is the crossbreed, a hybrid of the heritage and Broadbreasted White turkeys. The best of these $3-a-pound birds, according to the magazine, are the ones with breasts that have not been super-sized.

Finally there is the $2-pound Broadbreasted White, the fresh turkey with the top-heavy physique. Locally raised birds are a good buy when shopping this category, the magazine said.

I am familiar with the local-bird route. Some years ago, when our sons were little boys, I drove them out to Maple Lawn turkey farm, run by the Iager families in Howard County, to pick up the bird I had ordered some weeks earlier.

I wanted to teach my sons, who are city kids, where turkeys come from. The kids were not impressed when they stood downwind of the house that held dozens of the live, aromatic gobblers.

They were bored as we waited in line at the processing house for our fresh 20-pounder. But out in back of the processing house, they happened upon a barrel filled with turkey heads. That impressed them. They talked about the contents of that barrel for weeks, even at the table, as we enjoyed the moist, roasted bird.

Last week, the longer that I paged through the articles recommending tweaks to the Thanksgiving tradition, the more my anger gave way to curiosity. I had to admit that over the years a few new dishes have sneaked onto our menu. The hominy casserole, for instance, is an immigrant from Arizona.

Maybe, I told myself, that butternut-squash mousse with pumpkin-pie spices in Food & Wine would taste good. Perhaps, in a bohemian household, it might be permissible to serve the cranberry-honey-glazed chicken that Fine Cooking touted as a substitute for turkey.

Moreover, the Cook's Illustrated suggestion to cure the turkey by lifting its skin with chopsticks, rubbing the meat underneath the skin with kosher salt and letting it sit in the fridge for 24 hours, then to rinse it and cook it upside down with the breast resting on ice packs (who could make this up?) is just the kind of obsessive behavior that I been known to engage in.

I might try this, but only on a cold winter weekend with a chicken. Not on Thanksgiving with the sacred bird.

My Thanksgiving tradition is immutable, sorta.

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