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Zan Thompson

A Thanksgiving Dinner to Remember

November 26, 1987|Zan Thompson

How nice that in 1620 William Bradford squared his flat-brimmed hat and said to his fellows at Plymouth Plantation: "Well, we've made it through the year and we have a bountiful harvest. Pumpkins, cranberries, grain, apples and a little barley sugar left for a pudding. Let's have a party and give thanks for our bounty.

"And while we're at it, wouldn't it be a good idea to ask the Indians to join us? Maybe they could bring some of that corn they have and some venison and we can trap a couple of those big stray birds (now called turkeys)."

And in spite of the steely eyed portraits of William, he must have had a great deal of the adventurer in his soul. Oh, sure, he came to the unknown continent for religious freedom, but don't you suppose he twisted and turned in his scratchy night clothes in his hard bed in England the night before they sailed and thought: "This is really going to be exciting. I'll sure have something to put in the newsletter to the boys back at the lodge when we get to the new continent."

Anyone who would board a ship about the size of a sectional sofa and sail toward the horizon across the Atlantic had a good deal of derring-do as well as religious convictions.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with all of the people you love close to you.

I'm sure the turkey will be cooked to mellow perfection and that you do not have that moment of raw terror when you think it won't be done in time. And surely the sweet potatoes with orange juice and brown sugar and the onions gentled in a pale cheese sauce will follow in ordered procession. Thanksgiving dinner should be one of cozy familiarity with no surprises so that everyone can feel snug and secure.

One Thanksgiving on our hill in Orange County, I made the mistake of straying from the time-honored menu and all did not go well. In fact, all went into a shambles. A business friend of my husband, Doug, had sent him a Virginia baked ham which he said would be so succulent, so rosy, so gently smoky, that my dinner would be the talk of the drawing rooms of Orange County. It didn't work that way. The ham arrived weeks before Thanksgiving and I put it under our bed. It was wrapped in cheesecloth and had directions which said to keep it at an even temperature around 65 degrees centigrade. The only place I could think of was under the bed.

Michael, the collie, used to try to wriggle under the bed to get the ham, but he was too big. I wish he had. One bite and Mike would have made it clear that it was inedible.

I read every cookbook I had and the night before Thanksgiving, I started to cope with my treasure--which would make me the envy of the First Families of Virginia. I boiled the ham in a large pan I borrowed from my friend, Angelita, who uses it for tamales. After it had simmered for the number of hours mandated in the book, Doug had to carry the pan to the sink because I couldn't lift it. Then we repeated the process. By now it was about 3 o'clock in the morning and our interest was flagging. Actually, Doug had already flagged himself off upstairs.

In the morning, I took off the cheesecloth, which was like unwrapping a mummy, and I longed for the simple days of plucking pinfeathers. Then I started to bake the ham. I will spare you more about the hours of work involved in that ham. I also made a jellied wine salad with seeded grapes and grapefruit sections, started a corn souffle, made a pan of scalloped potatoes and fixed a green vegetable. I also fixed a pan of hot curried and candied fruit.

Finally, dinner was ready, we thought, and I called the guests to the dining room. Doug carried in the ham on a platter of my grandmother's that she must have used for boar's head. At least, the ham was big enough.

Doug carved beautiful thin slices and we served the plates. I have mercifully forgotten who took the first bite of ham but whoever did made a noise like a drowning victim and his eyes rolled around in his head. He managed to gasp: "It's a little too salty." He looked as if he belonged in a hyperbaric chamber.

It tasted like a 30-pound anchovy and someone had the wonderful idea to boil it a while longer. I put everything back in the oven and Doug put the ham in Angie's pot and we retired to the drawing room.

Doug made another pitcher of martinis or Mimosas or whatever he thought would ease the pain and the hunger pangs.

That is really the end of the story. It just kept on like that. The ham never got any more edible and Doug kept the glasses filled. I finally made an omelet and bacon for our son Tim and he escaped that dreary living room. Actually, it was quite merry. Hungry, but merry. Finally, one guest said pitifully: "Can I fix a scalloped potato sandwich?"

He did, but he said it wasn't very good. I think we finally had cake and pie and coffee and if ever Scarlett O'Hara and the Tarleton twins, Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler and Melanie suggest a Southern baked ham, I will tell them I don't think it travels well. West of the Mississippi, you just can't eat it.

I hope you have a wonderful day with friends and family. Yes, the market is scary, the national debt looks insurmountable, but there is much to be thankful for. Snow falling or sun shining on a sand dune, I hope it is your best Thanksgiving ever with the turkey shiny and bronzed and those you love near.

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