Recalling a national treasure on a national day of Thanksgiving

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Photo: DPC.

Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2023. Rainy and grey had been the prediction (to keep your attention) while “fair and sunny” was the last minute forecast to take hold. Along with the last minute changes in the weather, I couldn’t resist getting a shot (above) of what the rain last night did to the trees; and what the trees did to the sidewalk in front of my building this morning. Nature is the artist and naturally it’s a masterpiece, albeit, a brief one.

The scene on Tuesday evening along Central Park West as they were preparing the floats for today’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

We usually don’t plan any copy to celebrate the holiday for everyone, Thanksgiving; although JH had an idea of using some holiday copy in our archives, so he’s re-running along with a few words of introduction:

“For every leaf lost is a soul lost.” The great Liz Smith may have left us in 2017, but her wit and wisdom continue to rustle in the winds of change that she certainly would have had much to say about. And so we thought it appropriate to publish a Thanksgiving column of hers — written for the NYSD the year she died — with the help of her confidante and friend, the talented Mr. Ferrara. Her words endure, like the memory of the lady herself.

“THANKSGIVING IS indeed the nearest thing we have to a national liturgy. From sea to shining sea, it calls forth a grand harmony of groaning boards … Yet, what must we think of a nation that, as the central motif of this gustatory concerto, insists upon a bird that has a name used chiefly as an insult!”

So pontificated Episcopal theologian, author and chef Robert Farrar Capon, writing of Thanksgiving for the New York Times.

The dear old turkey has suffered the slings and arrows of many attackers, yet if the big bird is simply roasted properly, according to excellent recipes (and there are millions of them) the dish can be quite tasty bearing no resemblance to the horrible processed “turkey” we get offered every day in delicatessen sandwiches.

Fr. Robert Farrar Capon.

AT ANY RATE, people go on trying to let turkey-eatingget out of control to make Thanksgiving “special” because they eat about 46 million turkeys each November. And approximately 31.2 million Americans travel by car, 4.7 million by plane, 33 million by train or bus for this holiday, in order to get with beloved family, hated in-laws, deserted cousins and dear friends. And along with turkeys, Americans also celebrate at this time the lowly cranberry, which is one of the rare fruits native to North America.

Eastman Johnson, Cranberry Pickers, 1879.

The above-mentioned Rev. Capon noted that Thanksgiving “is the only nationwide festival we have that still involves honest and considerable ‘sit-down eating.’ It is the perfect holiday, superior to all other federally finagled four-day weekends.” He noted that “other holidays are … vacancies in time … Thanksgiving, by contrast, has not only a common theme but a common ritual as well … Thanksgiving is better even than Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover or Easter.

“Those festivities, while they involve unifying activities, are enjoyable chiefly in anticipation. The feasts themselves are letdowns. Advent, for instance, is fun: it has in Christmas, a future that brightens each dark December day. When Dec. 25 finally rolls around, it is simply a present with no future whatsoever to look forward to. Thanksgiving, however, has Advent, Hanukkah and Christmas waiting to burst upon us the minute the dishwasher is loaded.”

I ALSO RATHER admire writer Bryan Miller‘s defense of the turkey. He says the bird “deserves respect for tradition’s sake,” noting that “more than any other food, it embodies the early American spirit; tireless effort against depressing odds, spiritual sustenance, season renewal.” And, he adds the reminder that turkeys are close to red meat in protein content but only about 11% fat, even less if the skin is not included. A serving has about 9 grams of fat and that is unsaturated.

So, chow down, you food purists!

Adult males. Photo: October Greenfield/Audubon Photography Awards

SENTIMENTALISTS believe the first Thanksgiving occurred about 1621 when early settlers shared a feast with native Indians.

But after years of varying dates and debate as to when and where the “real” first Thanksgiving was celebrated, it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November “a national day of Thanksgiving.”

But it was the poetic magazine writer Sarah Josepha Hale who badgered and prodded throughout the 19th century for there to be a genuine Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday. (This woman also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

Congress didn’t really act on her suggestion until 1941, while it was busy with World War II.

I LOVE Thanksgiving because it’s the one holiday that doesn’t involve “proper gift-giving.” You can offer to bring or make dessert, or grab a bottle of champagne, a bouquet of flowers, a box of candy and everybody thinks you’re a prince.

I see that the late great journalist/humorist Russell Baker didn’t think much of eating turkey on Thanksgiving. He said he rated turkey-eating “as just slightly better than the Miss America Pageant, but not quite as good as the Super Bowl and about on a par with the Academy Awards show.”

The Pope’s nose — My favorite part of the turkey.

I am happy that most of my friends have very good cooks, or they are very good cooks. They follow directions that make their turkeys come out perfectly. Add gravy, which I can make with one hand tied behind my back, and stuffing of almost any variety, plus cranberries — Voila! Perfection!

And what about the next day? Turkey with cranberry sauce, mayonnaise on white bread, whole wheat or rye. This is truly the reason to observe Thanksgiving.

We have much to be thankful for even in these perilous, uncertain times and so I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and all the best parts of the turkey. (I love the Pope’s nose myself!) Thank heaven Ben Franklin didn’t get his wish of making the turkey the national bird. Or we’d be eating eagle!

P.S. And once again, I will reprint the famous Pink Teacup café’s recipe for a dessert that looks just about the same as pumpkin — but is, in my opinion, more delicious!  At the Teacup, they always offered Sweet Potato Pie and here is the recipe:

2 lbs. Yams
½ cup of butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated
½ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
½ cup of evaporated milk

Liz Smith photographed by Harry Benson.

Peel and boil yams until mashable. Add butter, spices, salt, sugar to hot yams. Beat until light and smooth.

Beat egg yolks until light and add to mixture.

Stir in orange juice, orange rind and milk. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold in.

Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell. Preheat oven to 350 and bake 35 minutes or until the pie puffs up and is firm in the middle.  Cool on a rack.

Add whipped cream.

Then, dig in, Pilgrims!  You’ll have something that resembles pumpkin pie but is a thousand times better tasting and easy to make once you assemble the ingredients.

Is it fattening? Sure, but Thanksgiving only comes once a year.

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