By Rachel Barduson
I like a little turkey with my gravy on my Thanksgiving Day plate. I like all the trimmings that go with the turkey...but in the long run, it’s all about the gravy. The gravy ties it all together.
Lessons in gravy making began early over my mother’s stove. I remember it clearly because it was all trial and error and hope and faith. There was never a real recipe that I can remember, just conversation over the stove. There was never a doubt that making gravy was an art that was not only learned, but a talent that was God-given. My mother had been blessed with the talent, although she never gave herself enough credit. Clearly, however, she was blessed.
It was understood from the very beginning that the only way you could learn how to make mom’s gravy was to stand there, watch closely, and stir. This would be a test in attention to details, however simple those details may be. Patience was the key. If you learned nothing else, you would learn patience.
The base for mom’s gravy began with the giblets, onions, celery, gizzard, heart, and neck of the bird. That good old broth would come in handy. This base was not only good for turkey, but it worked for chicken gravy too. I can smell that wonderful aroma right now with the turkey or chicken straight out of the oven. I must, however, digress for story’s sake, and throw in a curve.
One of the first Thanksgiving dinners I remember was “the year of the goose.” What I remember most about that particular Thanksgiving dinner was that the goose did not make the best gravy – it was a bit greasy and there simply was not enough of it to go around. I’m not sure who got credit for shooting the goose during the hunting season, but I learned that goose is nothing like chicken or turkey. Not enough goose, but more importantly, not enough gravy. The year of the goose was a “one and done” kind of meal for us. It was mother that made the executive decision for future holiday dinners...no goose.
Since we had chickens on the farm, we generally had roasted chicken for Thanksgiving. These were not your typical chickens. These were big chickens that we butchered right there on the farm. Yup, we helped with the entire process – from catching the chickens roosting in the trees, to cleaning the chickens in the basement, to roasting the chicken, cooking the giblets, cooking the potatoes, preparing the stuffing and creamed corn, making the cranberry relish from scratch, and making the gravy. Those were the days, and we smothered the entire meal in gravy. Mom’s gravy.
The very first Thanksgiving Day meal I made for my mom and dad and other family members was, in your typical fashion, a disaster for a young bride. In my naivety I didn’t realize that a store-bought turkey had the giblets packaged and tucked under the skin that surrounded the neck area of the bird. Little did I know I roasted the whole package, paper included. How I missed that entirely, I will never know, and I hate to admit it even happened. When mother asked me if I was cooking the giblets for gravy, I told her this particular bird came without. To my surprise, the package appeared when I took the turkey out of the oven. Mother helped me make a tasty gravy anyway...drippings and potato water and of course the thickening agent. Obviously, this young bride had a lot to learn. And you know what else? Mom didn’t make me feel like a complete idiot.
And so, the lessons continued, and mother patiently showed me the art of making the Thanksgiving Day dinner and the gravy. The giblets were key, however, so were the drippings from the oven pan and the salted potato water that was added to it. Another key was the mixing of flour in cold water to make the thickening agent and stirring that with a fork until it’s a smooth cream-like base. This cold water and flour mixture was slowly added to the pan of sizzling drippings and then we’d add a little potato water and broth. Stir. Add a little more potato water and stir. Add a little more thickening agent. Don’t forget the Kitchen Bouquet in a bottle – add a little of that for a rich color and flavor. Add maybe a little more broth. No recipe really, except to stir with unyielding focus and patience. This continued the “gravy making,” standing over a hot stove while part of the family was in the living room having fun and the kids were scattered about playing games.
That was the typical scene, all good and exactly how it’s supposed to be. I look back on it now and realize, this was “Thanksgiving with Mom,” and the bulk of her day was in the kitchen. And you know what? We all eventually stood over the stove during the gravy making, or at least we rotated our presence in the kitchen and her gravy always turned out perfect. This was her idea of a perfectly perfect Thanksgiving Day. The entire meal was presented beautifully but more importantly, the whole family was together, grateful for our blessings and grateful to be able to laugh together.
In our family, mom was everything and I couldn’t imagine ever coming close to being the human she was. However, eventually she wanted us to be ready to take over the holiday meals (and, in general, be prepared to be all grown up). Part of that “taking over” the holiday meals was to learn how to stir the gravy. We didn’t realize during our stirring lessons that, in essence, she was also giving us subtle lessons in life and living. Slow and steady wins the race. We don’t always have to hurry. Maybe in the long run it could be perfectly perfect or at least good enough.
Thank you, mom, for teaching me how to stir the gravy.