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Thanksgiving Day, 1889. This year I had no trouble coming up with my gratefulness contribution around the Thanksgiving table.
Andi beamed. After a week of worry bordering on sheer terror, her beloved husband, Riley, was out of the woods at last. (See Stranger in the Glade, “Count Your Blessings,” coming March 2022). He’d been injured but had finally regained consciousness and was now sleeping peacefully upstairs in the Circle C guestroom. In no uncertain terms, Riley had made Andi promise to go downstairs and join her family. “It does you no good to mope around next to a sleeping man,” he’d joked.
Heartened at Riley’s near-miraculous recovery, Andi had done what he asked. She tiptoed out of the room and found an empty seat at the large table. The entire family (except Troy, who still had a few months left of his prison term) had gathered. Jared banged his spoon on the highchair’s wooden tray and hollered.
Andi had been so preoccupied with Riley’s illness that she’d paid no attention to this year’s Thanksgiving preparations. However, as she slid into her place, everything looked as it always did. The snow-white table cloth was in place. The best china and silver were, as always, carefully placed at each setting, and glossy (not starched!) napkins lay under the forks. Everyone, even six-year-old Samuel James, had his own salt and pepper shakers, goblet, and butter plate.
“Look, Aunt Andi,” Sammy squealed after the Thanksgiving prayer. “Hannah helped us make the . . . the . .” He scratched his head and looked at his cousin. “What’s it called?”
“The centerpiece,” Hannah reminded him.
“Me too, Mama,” Jared piped up. “I helped too.”
Andi smiled. Clumps of still-green valley oak leaves with their elongated acorns, a handful of wheat stalks, and a manzanita branch with its bright-red berries had been crammed together in a wicker basket. A couple of dried, multi-colored corn cobs with husks lay on either side of the centerpiece. Only a proud mother or grandmother would think this centerpiece was beautiful.
Andi lost her smile when Nila and Luisa placed a bowl of creamed soup and then a plate of fish in front of her. It took Andi less than the blink of an eye to realize that Riley’s sudden accident wasn’t the only thing different about Thanksgiving this year.
Fish? Andi did not care for surprises. Nor did she like fish, unless it was freshly caught, pan-fried rainbow trout. This was some kind of pale-as-a-ghost white fish drenched in a mysterious sauce. After the first taste, she bit her lip and tried to look grateful.
Where was the turkey? Somebody had some explaining to do. Her stomach turned over, and not because she was in the family way. She exchanged a puzzled look with Chad but said nothing.
Before Andi disgraced herself with a question, Melinda spoke up. “For those of you who are wondering why the menu looks a little different this year, Mother gave me permission to try something new. It’s all the rage in this newly published book. She reached into her lap under the table and brought forth the source of this fish foolishness.
Andi squinted at the cover from four seats away. “House and Home, A Complete Housewife’s Guide, by Marion Harland,” she read aloud.
“Yes, published just this fall, 1889.” Melinda’s eyes sparkled. It was no secret that big sister like trying out not only the newest dress fashions but also the newest cuisine. “This year’s menu has been inspired by the author’s chapter regarding the Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn’t wait to try it. Mother, Nila, Luisa, and Ellie pitched in to make it successful.” She cleared her throat and began to read. That was fine with Andi. She preferred to listen to Melinda read than eat the fish.
“Whatever may be the press of duties that on other days drives the business of eating into a gobble and a race,” she read, “take time on Thanksgiving day to dine.” She looked up. “And so we shall. We can share our gratitude snippets between courses. We will take Mrs. Harland’s advice and extend our meal today, no matter how long it takes.”
No matter how long it takes? Andi wondered. How long until the turkey? Then a worse thought weaseled its way into her thoughts. What if the author suggested eliminating the turkey altogether? Would Mother allow Melinda to go so far in trying the newest “rage”? Oh, dear! Andi had not been part of the preparations, so she didn’t even know if turkey was on the menu.
Melinda was still talking. “And remember. Use only the fork with your fish. Never the knife.” The dull thud of knives dropping against the cloth-covered table brought a giggle to Andi’s throat. She suppressed it.
To Andi’s relief, Nila soon brought in large serving bowls piled high with fluffy whipped potatoes. Andi helped herself and hoped the uneaten portion of her fish (all but one bite) would remain unnoticed. She did not want to hurt Melinda’s feelings on this special day. No other vegetables were served at this time.
Her potatoes were only half finished when Luisa pushed through the dining room door with platters of large, round crackers smeared with something dark and sticky-looking. She met Andi’s puzzled gaze and winked. The Mexican housekeeper was clearly working hard to keep her humor contained.
“Ah!” Melinda smiled. “The chicken pâté, served on San Francisco’s best crackers.”
“The what?” Chad’s eyebrows rose. He grunted when Ellie elbowed him in the ribs and told him to hush.
Chad took the words right out of my mouth, Andi mused.
Luisa dropped a cracker on Jared’s wooden tray. “A very unusual dish, senor,” she explained. “First, you trim the chicken livers of their connective tissue, sauté them in butter with a little garlic, add a little brandy, then purée them with cream and a little more butter and then—”
“Hold on.” Andi couldn’t help breaking in. Ordinary chicken on Thanksgiving was bad enough, but chicken livers all squished up and mixed with cream? She shuddered. “Where in the world did you come up with this highfalutin—”
“Concoction,” Chad finished. Ellie jabbed him a second time.
“In the chapter on Thanksgiving menus, of course,” Melinda quipped. “Try them.”
Just then, Nila appeared with a strange-looking steamed vegetable, along with a plate of pickles. “It’s salsify,” Melinda explained. “It’s a root vegetable that the book says tastes a little like oysters and licorice, hence the nickname ‘oyster plant.’”
Worse and worse! Andi’s throat tightened. Would their family not enjoy anything traditional this year? She wished House and Home, A Complete Housewife’s Guide had never found its way into her sister’s hands. And Mother had gone along with this lunacy?
“More!” Jared demanded just then. His face was smeared with pâté and cracker crumbs. Mitch dropped another cracker on his tray. Jared liked it? Hmm. Andi took a nibble. It didn’t taste as terrible as it sounded. Anything drowned in cream had to taste half-way good. She took another bite. No, not bad at all.
Finally, in a burst of triumph, the Thanksgiving turkey was settled in all its glory at the head of the table. Small sausages and celery tops had been carefully placed all around the large tom turkey. It took both Nila and Luisa to set it carefully in front of Justin without knocking anything over.
Thank you, Jesus, Andi prayed silently. It was a beautiful bird. Her mouth watered while Justin carved away for what seemed like hours. In the meantime, Luisa and Nila went back and forth with a sauce boat of giblet gravy, dishes of cranberries, and bowls of steaming sweet potatoes.
This is more like it, Andi thought. When the plate of white and dark meat came her way, she snagged a couple of slices and cut up the meat for Jared. “More” seemed to be his favorite word today.
Melinda sighed her pleasure. “The turkey looks exactly as the book describes.” Then she began to read. “‘He should be well stuffed, carefully basted, judiciously turned from time to time. Rich in coloring, done to a turn, but nowhere scorched.’”
Between bites, the family carried on the usual Thanksgiving tradition of sharing—from the youngest to the oldest—their gratitude for something the previous year. Jared got to start.
“What are you thankful for, Little Man?” Andi asked.
He pulled a piece of meat out of his mouth and said, “Daddy.”
Andi nearly burst into tears. Yes, she was grateful her babies’ daddy was on the mend—both Jared and the little one she was carrying.
She stuffed herself on turkey, but this was a mistake. Andi’s eyes grew wide when Nila and Luisa brought in the next course. Wild quail—plentiful in the valley—was served, along with a salad of lettuce, and dressing made of salt, white sugar, pepper, oil, and vinegar. Melinda stood up and tossed the salad and dressing right at the table. “’Tossing the salad is an accomplishment which every woman should practice,’” she quoted from House and Home. “I’m getting quite good at it.”
Andi would rather toss a lasso.
There was more. By now, a good hour and a half had passed. “Maybe I should check on Riley,” she ventured when the next food items were brought in—crackers, cheese, and olives. Olives might be a specialty item in other parts of the country, but not here in the valley. Andi often munched olives by the handfuls.
“No need, chiquita.” Nila smiled. “I looked in on the senor not long ago. He sleeps peacefully. Stay and enjoy tu familia.”
Andi relaxed and helped herself to the olives. “Gracias.”
At long last, the pumpkin pies were set on the table. Andi let out a grateful sigh. At least the author, Marion Harland, had not deprived the Carter family of their favorite conclusion to the Thanksgiving feast.
When Andi heard the grandfather clock chime four times, she started. Their meal had lasted three hours. She glanced at Jared. He was fast asleep, his cheeks buried in remnants of potatoes, pumpkin pie, and chicken-liver pâté. He looked more content than any two-year-old had a right to be. She brushed gentle fingers across his sticky blond waves and thanked God for her little family . . . and for her extended family.
Melinda was clearly “over the moon” about her successful Thanksgiving menu. She held baby William over her shoulder as she expressed her gratitude for her husband, Peter, for her new son, and for her gracious family, who showed such patience with her menu experiment this year.
Andi melted, regretful of her hasty “this isn’t Thanksgiving” thoughts earlier. Her belly was full of good—if unusual—foods. Just to show herself and Melinda that she was open to new ideas, she picked up a cracker smeared with pâté and popped it in her mouth with one very unladylike bite.
Note from Mrs. M. This menu is authentic, taken directly from the House and Home book referenced in this post. Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving! Comment by sharing a tradition your family does for Thanksgiving.