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GIVING THANKS : No fasting on this day of feasts: Thanksgiving is one time of year when many Americans happily overeat on a golden brown turkey and plenty of fattening side dishes

November 21, 1985|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor


Turkey With Double

Corn Dressing Cranberry Sauce Perfection Salad Waldorf Salad Succotash Green Beans Amandine Acorn Squash Orangey Sweet Potatoes and Marshmallows Cloud Nine PotatoesParker House Rolls Mincemeat Tarts Pumpkin Pie in Pecan Crust Coffee or Tea

Forget the foie gras. Skip the broiled lobster. Next Thursday is turkey day; a day devoted to a large golden bird stuffed with a well-seasoned dressing and surrounded by more side dishes than one customarily sees in a week. It's the day the average American gorges, at a single meal, on a plethora of rich, fattening foods that are assiduously avoided nowadays in our everyday life.

Thanksgiving is a true feast day. And, for most of us, the holiday menu is as predictable as our propensity to overeat. As every schoolchild knows, it is the day we celebrate the first successful harvest by the Pilgrims, who wisely acknowledged their success by inviting the local Indians to join them in a Thanksgiving fete. Since their Indian guests supplied a large part of that original meal (plus a large part of the know-how that made the Pilgrims' harvest a productive one), that turned out to be a very astute move by our predecessors.

Although that first harvest feast was followed by many more on an informal basis, it was not until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

Lincoln didn't name the turkey as the official entree of the day's feast, but he might as well have, for several centuries of tradition have now established the ungainly bird as the center of attraction at a Thanksgiving dinner.

But what about the West? Is the type of traditional Thanksgiving dinner that has evolved today something that might have been enjoyed by early settlers in this part of the country?

Well, yes and no. Certainly the foods that dominate a Thanksgiving menu were available.

But it's unlikely, for example, that Father Junipero Serra celebrated the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving per se at the famous old Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. It is, however, quite likely that he and his fellow friars held other celebration feasts at the mission with many of the same foods present at the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving.

Besides converting the local Juaneno Indians to Christianity, the Franciscan friars spent a great deal of time teaching them how to farm and raise livestock. Turkey, corn, beans and other vegetables, wheat flour, fruits (but no cranberries) were easily come by. And that may be why our suggested 1985 Thanksgiving menu looked so at home on the rough-hewn table amid the adobe walls of one of the padre's rooms when photographed at the mission.

Thanksgiving is the one time of year when even ardent diet watchers tend to skip normal eating patterns. The celebration meal, usually one containing absolutely no surprises, leans toward opulence. Instead of the usual one vegetable side dish, there will be three or four. Several salads and two or three kinds of desserts are the order of the day.

There's a quiet excitement that builds as the aromas of the feast begin to permeate the house, and by dinner time everyone is ready to relish much too much food. It's almost obligatory to overeat on Thanksgiving. (As well as on the day after, when the first batch of leftovers is consumed with as much fervor as the original meal.)

Celebrating Thanksgiving with traditional foods is, in a way, a comforting trip to a happy past. And when we share our celebration with family and friends--or strangers--so much the better. That really is what the day is all about.

For those who lack old family recipes, or would like to try some new variations on an old theme, the following recipes will provide a feast worthy of establishing a few new traditions for the generations to come.


1 medium turkey, about 15 pounds

Salt, pepper

2 large cloves garlic, slightly crushed, optional

Double Corn Dressing

Butter or margarine, melted

Sugar-coated grapes for garnish, optional

Peeled whole oranges for garnish, optional

Remove neck and giblets from turkey. Cook neck and giblets in water to cover to make broth for gravy, if desired. Rinse turkey and pat dry. Rub salt, pepper and garlic into neck and body cavities and onto skin surface.

Lightly spoon some Double Corn Dressing into neck cavity, then skewer neck skin to back. Stuff body cavity with remaining dressing and secure drumsticks lightly with string. Twist wings akimbo under turkey, if desired. Otherwise, secure to body with wood picks.

Place turkey, breast up, on rack in roasting pan. Brush with melted butter. Insert meat thermometer into thick part of thigh. Point should not touch bone.

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