My Granny moved to Starkville this week. It wasn’t a lock, stock and barrel move – it was more of a temporary relocation as she recovers from a tumble she took a few weeks ago. I reckon when one is 95, that five-plus-foot distance from up to down seems a little farther and faster.
With Granny being in the city limits this week, that means our Thanksgiving celebration will shift from Belmont to Stark-Vegas. But because we have spent many a Thanksgiving Day in Belmont at Granny’s house, there are naturally lots of memories linked to that little spot on the map. I suspect I have watched more Macy’s parades from her living room than any other place on the planet. In high school band days I particularly watched for the appearance of the McDonald’s All-American band, in hopes that I might see someone I knew.
Thanksgiving was also one of the few times when the formal dining room table was set and used. Of course, in the early years, a seat at that table was reserved for the grown-ups, and those of us in the grandchildren category would sit at the kitchen table. We didn’t mind so much, though — the food was with us in the kitchen.
The Thanksgiving menu was pretty traditional: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, English peas, giblet gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls of some sort, and Granny’s lemonade iced tea. The dressing was simple, cornbread-based with no fancy touches like sausage or oysters, and lots of it. Dressing has never been my absolute favorite side, but over time it has grown on me. Even in the early days I would improve it by pairing each bite of dressing with a bit of cranberry sauce.
Again, we’re not talking about cranberry chutney or anything fancy like that. In fact, if a whole cranberry had ever crossed our table, we wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Our cranberry sauce of choice is the straight-up canned jelly variety, sliced and displayed on a little silver tray made just for that.
The mashed potatoes were simply cooked, too — a little butter, salt and milk — but they were always so smooth. No lumps allowed. Most of us topped them with the giblet gravy, which had a little boiled egg added to it.
In fact, I poured gravy on just about everything on my plate. Some of my family, however, found it fun to fill the well in the center of their potatoes with English peas. Oh my. I could barely stomach English peas at all in those days, so to defame the potatoes by mixing them together was positively disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t against mixing the peas with another food – I would do almost anything to disguise that taste and texture, including a baptism of ketchup if necessary — but don’t ruin my mashed potatoes.
Sweet potatoes were usually a part of the menu, too, but for some reason the memories are fuzzy. My mother said they usually came out under a layer of marshmallows, but every now and then it may have been a topping of brown sugar and pecans. Granny was always good about keeping any nut-containing dish at least one-half nut-free for me and my brother, until he turned traitor on me and began eating them. Maybe that’s why my memories are weak on this one –they may be repressed due to pecans that strayed over to my half.
After lunch, we did things like I suspect many other families did before food safety was ever much of a concern — we left it sitting on the stove. When our stomachs recovered enough after a nap and a ballgame to eat more, we just turned the burners back on and had at it again. And we all lived to tell the tale.
The food was all great — heated and reheated — but everything we ate was mostly an excuse to wash something else down with the drink served not just at Thanksgiving, but at every meal we had at her house: Granny’s iced tea. It is legendary, it is addictive, and it is simple. To make a gallon, she would steep three or four family-sized tea bags in boiling water, add a cup of sugar, and a small can of frozen lemonade — the kind with a little pulp. Fill the pitcher with water and that’s it. When I make it, I strain the lemonade because I’m not a pulp guy, but either way it needs to be stirred before serving to keep all the glasses evenly flavored. Lest you think — hey, isn’t that what they call an Arnold Palmer? — remember that Granny has at least 13 years on the great golfer and was making this special tea long before Mr. Palmer took up drink-naming as a hobby.
Holiday meals just wouldn’t be the same without Granny’s tea. It has been served from a silver pitcher at a tailgate in the Grove at Ole Miss, and this year we’ll guzzle it from Thanksgiving through the Egg Bowl and beyond.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for Granny and her gift of tea. Make some yourself and have a Happy Thanksgiving, too.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .