My apartment smells like Thanksgiving. I’m not having a dinner here, but I’ve got a crockpot full of turkey stock simmering away, and two pumpkin pies baking in my little turquoise oven. The pies are for the dinner at the CA House tomorrow that I won’t be attending and the stock is for the dinner at my cousin Angie’s house in Plymouth Meeting that I will be at. It won’t be stock for long though, tomorrow morning it will become Mo’s famous gravy.
In my family my mother cooks dinner just about every night. Baked chicken legs (with a rotating marinade/glaze of teriyaki, apricot jam or honey-mustard) string beans, salmon and broccoli are her specialties, but when holiday meals roll around, my dad is the man with the plan. He became the holiday cook when I was in my very early teens, because my mom was pretty sick, the chronic fatigue syndrome having raised it’s head in an attempt to swallow her whole. She could handle the average protein and veg dinner, but the work required to make Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner was far beyond the contents of her reserves. He was the head chef, and I was his willing and capable assistant, chopping celery, onions and mushrooms the night before, manning saute pans in the morning and handling the three standard side dishes–string beans with toasted almonds, mashed potatoes and creamy butternut squash. He took care of the bird, the stuffing and oh yes, the gravy.
It is that gravy I will be taking to Angie’s house tomorrow. It beginning with a flour toasting process that takes an hour and nerves of steel. The flour goes into a frying pan and you stand there, stirring, turning and making a mess all over the stove. This process is preferably done an evening or two before it is needed, with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer on the counter next to you, to pass the time. You want to go right to the edge, to the place where you fear it will burn, but know it won’t. Once the flour has turned dark, nutty and brown, you are done. The toasted flour then goes into a sieve or sifter and the clumps and lumps are worked out. Fast-forward to the next day. As you are putting the turkey into the oven in the morning, you pop the contents (neck, gizzard, liver and heart) of that notorious paperbag that comes inside the bird into a pot of water with a roughly chopped onion, several snapped stalks of celery (with the leafy greens), a couple cloves of garlic, salt, bay leaf and whatever else you use to make stock. I always throw a spring of rosemary in, mostly because that’s what my dad does. You let this stock/broth (I know, stock comes from bones, so this isn’t quite a stock, but oh well) simmer all day, until you are ready to make gravy. You make a roux with some of the toasted flour and some turkey drippings, siphoned off the roasting pan, get a nice thick paste, and then slowly add stock and the rest of the pan drippings. It needs a half hour of simmering to get rid of the flour taste, and then you have vats of dark, rich, yummy gravy.
The MoDad always makes about a gallon of gravy, because he is very serious about never running out of gravy before you run out of turkey. For years we had a guest who came for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners every year, and the thing he liked best about coming to our house for the meal was the abundance of gravy. When he was growing up, there was never enough, and so it was like his childhood dream come true. One year, as my mom was passing the pitcher of gravy across the table, her hand slipped and the gravy poured all over the table. This guest jumped, grabbed his spoon and started scrapping the gravy off the tablecloth and back into its vessel, in an attempt to save it. We let him go for a second, while someone ran to the kitchen for paper towels. We mopped up the rest of the gravy and gently reminded him that there was still about a half gallon, bubbling away contentedly on the stove. He was at ease once again, in the assurance that there would be enough.
I’m improvising a little this year, since I have no little white bag of turkey innards, I bought a pack of wings and a pack of gizzards to use to make my broth. I’m going to make my roux with a little butter tomorrow and then add the drippings from Angie’s pan when I get to her house. But I don’t doubt that it will be wonderful. Yum!