Left-over gold and red leaves cling to wet tree limbs like bits of watercolor paints applied over charcoal sketches on art paper, while clean-swept lawns retain their summer green. Garden beds have been covered with most of the fallen leaves and pine straw, while late fall rains hold down the mulch so it’ll not blow away down the street in the next wind storm. Fresh birch logs cut last month rest stacked against the side of the house, alongside old apple wood. A soup pot of salmon and shrimp chowder steams on the kitchen stove. And Southeastern Conference college football is playing on the television.
On this Veterans’ Day Saturday, Hubby and I enjoy pajama day, lounging in brand new sets of matching flannel plaid in black and grey, matching house slippers, and oversized grey sweaters. Well, it’s a grey month, November, and rightly so, as it’s covered in heavy dark clouds and washed in gentle drizzle. November is a time for indulging myself in gentle pursuits of escaping into a good story, writing my own story, snuggling on the library sofa with a sweet Cocker Spaniel who’s just been bathed and groomed the day before. His coat feels like my new flannels.
And November is a special time of remembering past Novembers in the country, of Thanksgiving holidays with beloved late family members gathered to celebrate, and to retell the old stories around the table. At our place in the Florida Panhandle, Mama and Papa, of course, were already there, living in their little cottage on the estate. Sis and Frank usually arrived on the Greyhound Bus from Mobile. They got off at the highway corner and walked down our clay road to the front gate, bringing simple little presents for my sister and me, such as a new coloring book or a sample sheet of wall paper for my dollhouse.
All three women—grandmother, aunt, my mother—shared the cooking preparations. Mother roasted the turkey at the main house. Mama and Sis baked the cornbread the day before, partly for the oyster dressing, partly to serve dripping with sweet butter at tea. Mama baked the pies, probably not pumpkin but always pecan. “Only Yankees eat pumpkins,” she’d chuckle. Sweet potato pie is Southern, and sweeter, especially with marshmallows toasted on top.
When I married and moved downstate, I carried on the tradition as much as I could: my new (Yankee!) husband insisted on pumpkin pie. He still does. I learned to adapt my tastes to his while retaining my allegiance to my Southern roots. Soon, I began to develop my own recipes. One year, an issue of Family Circle magazine featured a Williamsburg Thanksgiving dinner, complete with candlelight table settings, with turkey at one end of the table and a ham at the other, green beans and root vegetables served on pewter platters. I loved that idea, so I adapted it for our family table and brought out the wedding silver.
The article included all the pertinent recipes. Instead of the modern American sweet potato soufflé, for example, “Sweet Potato Bake” began with sliced apples, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon, sautéed, then added to the bottom of a baking dish, then the mashed sweet potatoes spread over the top. Without marshmallows, which probably didn’t exist in the colonies in the 1600s, this apple/sweet potato staple was baked in cast iron pans in a brick oven. Sometimes pecans were added as a topping.
Hubby didn’t like it and insisted on white potatoes, boiled and buttered, with a bit of parsley. That was too ordinary, I complained, not fit for a feast. Over nearly 50 years, however, we’ve learned to accommodate each other’s tastes. Eventually, Bon Appétit magazine taught me to oven-roast root vegetables, combined together and seasoned with lemon pepper and thyme and drizzled olive oil—potatoes, onions, carrots, beets—along with the turkey, or any other roast meat such as pork or lamb. The flavors mingle and become richer, not to mention emitting a rich aroma wafting throughout the house from a single kitchen oven.
This year, since we’re fast growing into old fogies, I’ll purchase Stove-Top Dressing. I’m the only one who likes it, anyway. We’ll “stuff” the turkey with a split onion and fresh sage from the herb garden. And I think I’ll check with Johnson’s Orchard up the road to see about ordering a pumpkin pie from its bake shop. But I’ll make my own pecan pie, thank you, and cranberry chutney. No one else does it the way I like.
NEXT: Thanksgiving Recipes from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia