by Brett Harrison
Ah! On Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West, from North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest; When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board the old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more and the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before; what moistens the lip and what brightens the eye, what calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?—-from “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Thanksgiving is a special holiday during which many families gather, often just once a year, and catch up with each other, argue, watch football and eat.
I normally don’t go anyplace for Thanksgiving for many reasons too personal to mention in what’s supposed to be a light entertaining newspaper piece. But out of respect for the holiday, I do one thing every Thanksgiving. I eat like I will never have another meal, and I eat alone.
Before I proceed, I would just like to tell you a little about myself: My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned because I couldn’t concentrate. Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the axe. After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn’t suited for it. The job was only so-so, anyhow. Next I tried working in a muffler factory, but that was exhausting.
I wanted to be a barber, but I just couldn’t cut it. I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced it, I couldn’t cut the mustard. My best job was being a musician, but eventually I found I wasn’t noteworthy. Next was a job in a shoe factory; I tried, but I just didn’t fit in…
Getting back to Thanksgiving, I’ve cooked my share of turkeys in the past, but it’s a lot of work, especially if you’re not expecting company. These days I try to at least cook something with turkey in it. At this writing I’m planning turkey cacciatore. And to be honest, I’m not much for big gatherings. I always get a few invitations every year, and I always end up staying at home. Too much angst for this writer. Although Thanksgiving is often called Turkey Day, to me it is just as much about the pumpkin pie.
There have been varying accounts as to what foods were actually served at that first Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, but it is believed that by 1621 the settlers were stewing pumpkin meat or perhaps combining milk, honey and spices in a hollowed out pumpkin shell and cooking it in ashes. (Whenever I think about this country’s history, I am always reminded of how Christopher Columbus financed his trips to the New World. Very, very few people know this, but Columbus paid for the trips with his Discover card.)
Just 30 years after the first Thanksgiving, Francois Pierre La Varenne, considered by many the founder of modern French cuisine, included a recipe for pumpkin pie in his seminal cookbook “Le Cuisinier Francois.”
But let’s face it. Making the pie from scratch is just too labor-intensive, so I consume store-bought pumpkin pie instead. Now I’m a big boy, at least 325 pounds on a good day, and on top of that I have diabetes 2 and gout. I read somewhere that there are eight million people in the U.S. as big as I am, but these, of course, are only “round figures.”
But I take my writing seriously, so yesterday I reluctantly hiked the three blocks to my closest German-owned grocery store and bought a pumpkin pie. (I bet the guy in the meat department $50 that he couldn’t reach the meat on the top shelf. He said, “No, I can’t; the steaks are too high.”)
But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. After all, many writers talk the talk, but I walk the walk. And eat the pie.
After buying the whipped cream, I went home and proceeded to devour said pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream, aided by plenty of nice cold milk. After all, it’s not fair if I write about pumpkin pie and don’t eat one. And for Pete’s sake, please don’t dime me out with my endocrinologist.
Naturally I will get another pie for Thanksgiving, although I might try another place next time. There’s a certain diner in South Philly that makes a pumpkin cheesecake that I would kill my own grandmother for, if she were still alive.
So as most of you are enduring another Thanksgiving with screaming children and fighting over who gets the white meat or the dark meat, and many of you still have to make that four-hour drive home after it’s done, I’ll be home with my turkey cacciatore, my pumpkin pie (or cheesecake) and maybe even a fresh vegetable or two.
Is it possible to “pig out” on turkey?