Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Southern Thanksgiving: Recipes and Musings for a Manageable Feast, by Robb Forman Dew

By Christina VanGinkel

A Southern Thanksgiving: Recipes and Musings for a Manageable Feast, is a tiny book in stature, but a big book as far as story and top-notch recipes go. I was given a personal copy of this book as a gift when my youngest son was about two years old. I recall this because I was struggling with two preteens, and a toddler, and trying to figure out how to cook my very first holiday meal for a crowd. I had invited my mother, my sister and her family, my brother and his family, and my best friend and her four children, all to come to my small house on Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the holiday and enjoy a home cooked, traditional style Thanksgiving dinner. I was going to be cooking for a total of 17 people, and I did not have a clue what I was doing.

Shortly after the invitations were issued, I was in a panic! I knew nothing about cooking a large meal, especially one as grand as what most would expect on such a food-oriented day. It was my friend who came to my rescue, stopping by a couple of weeks before the actual date, toting along several different cookbooks and other books all about cooking in general with a few related specifically to the upcoming holiday. Amongst the stack of books was the copy of A Southern Thanksgiving: Recipes and Musings for a Manageable Feast, which I still own to this day.

The book starts out with an introduction that tells of the author's own experiences and memories of Thanksgivings from her own childhood with this traditional American holiday. How she at one time tried to explain what it even is to a person from a different country who was having a difficult time envisioning a holiday centered around a meal and why it was so significant. She also relates on why she decided to assemble the included recipes.

Not content to be just a book filled with a short story and a couple of recipes though, A Southern Thanksgiving: Recipes and Musings for a Manageable Feast, also touches on issues such as the presentation of the meal, and why her menu does not include mashed potatoes. Keep in mind that mashed potatoes are considered by many Americans to be as much of a staple on the Thanksgiving table as the turkey itself! Her menu instead includes Buttered Long-Grain White Rice served with her own version of Thanksgiving Gravy.

One aspect of her menu that I liked was that it was not all needing to be cooked in one day. Her Blanched and Other Vegetables Vinaigrette was suggested that it be prepared on the Sunday or Monday of Thanksgiving week, and refrigerated in Ziploc style bags or some other plastic storage container until needed. Until the big day, all you need to remember is to shake them about whenever you happen to be in the fridge, and remember to keep the vegetables soaking in the flavors. Final preparation on Thanksgiving Day for the vegetables is minimal compared to having to pull a complete dish together.

Also on her menu is a Roast Turkey, Cornbread Dressing with Sausage and Apples, Cranberry Jelly and Whole Cranberry Sauce, Yams Mousseline, Broccoli Mornay, and Braised Red Cabbage and Chestnuts. Not be done there though, she also includes two desserts, Lalie's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust, and Oranges in Red Wine. She also includes a short section on cocktails that can be served with this meal, and a few tips at the end on how to use up the leftovers, including my two favorites, the just as traditional as the meal itself Turkey Sandwich, and sending home some leftovers with your guests.

If you are in search of a book that will get you through the first and subsequent times you need to cook a traditional holiday meal, then I highly recommend A Southern Thanksgiving: Recipes and Musings for a Manageable Feast, for its brief but well planned execution of what could otherwise be a trying meal. With its touches of humor and sensible tips, whether you cook the whole menu as describes, or just a few as I did (I would have been dealing with a revolt if I had not served Mashed Potatoes), this is a must have for your kitchen's bookshelf.

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