The love-hate relationship with turkey meals

By Dennis Minich

My mother was a terrific cook. Whether it was homemade pies and rolls or fried chicken, hers were my favorites.

That of course held true on big eating days like Thanksgiving. Her turkey and dressing, gravy, green bean casserole and various other sides were things dreams were made of.

One dish I never really understood was Waldorf salad. It wasn’t really a salad because it was just a bunch of apples and nuts and stuff. But anyway, it was a nice fit because my mom loved to cook and my dad enjoyed a good meal.

But as much as everyone loved Thanksgiving and all of its goodies, one thing my dad disliked immensely was leftover turkey. It would seem unlikely with as large a family as we had that there would ever be much left over, but somehow some residual holiday fowl always seemed to remain for a few days. My mom had recipes for turkey pot pie, turkey casserole, turkey soup and of course, good old turkey sandwiches.

I personally liked them all, but Dad was not a fan of Thanksgiving leftovers, so often the remains became something for lunches while Dad was away at work so other items could be served in the evenings. I thought it was kind of strange he had such a reaction. Now, having gone many years with plenty of leftover turkey, I do get it. You can’t really keep it long so you have to eat it while it is fairly fresh and no matter how you prepare it, after the third or fourth day the idea of more turkey certainly loses its appeal.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about turkey leftovers (you can find all kinds of things on the Internet these days): In 1953, the Swanson Company had way too many leftover turkeys. It was suggested by a salesman they could package them into a prepared meal similar to what was served on airplanes. The company produced meals of turkey, cornbread dressing, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes and an apple-cranberry cake cobbler. With that, the TV dinner was born.

In my lifetime, the time cycle of Thanksgiving has changed. It used to be an early-morning event. We would be up early to watch the various Thanksgiving Day parades on television. Everyone knew there were only two good days for parades the whole year, Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and you didn’t want to miss out on either. There was the big one in New York, but I also remember watching various others. (I had the opportunity to attend a Thanksgiving parade in Chicago a few years ago and it was every bit as exciting of a way to celebrate the holiday as you could image.)

By the time mealtime rolled around, much of the festivity was over. The rest of the day was spent talking, napping and maybe watching some football.

I assume the parades are still an early morning staple, but it seemed the focus of the day’s non-eating activities moved to the afternoon: football.

Every year there is a crummy game in Detroit followed by a usually-as-crummy game from Dallas. A few years back, the NFL found a way to make even more money by putting another game on in the evening. So, while some used to play football on Thanksgiving afternoon, now the TV provides the action most are consumed with. I never really got with the Thanksgiving football gig. There were always people at the family dinners who couldn’t wait to go see one of these games. They always had a reason why this game was a “must see.” I just didn’t see it, but it left me closer to the desserts with less competition so who was I to complain.

But now it seems the main attraction of Thanksgiving has fallen even later in the day as “Black Friday”sales take center stage. Oddly, Friday now means Thursday at many stores. Once upon a time, serious shoppers would fight pre-dawn traffic, bitter cold and large crowds to grab bargains. I tried that once, I swore never again. A few retailers still offer such events, but in many cases the greatest deals are already finished by the time opening time arrives on Friday.

Thanksgiving is now more of a time to eat a big meal, get a good afternoon of sleep in and get to shopping. If all goes well you can have your Christmas list completed and be in bed by midnight. Maybe the NFL could try playing games starting at midnight to catch the post-shopping crowd.

In one final note, without a doubt the greatest Thanksgiving holiday line in television history came when Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson told his WKRP staff, “With God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” Maybe it is time to let Art off the hook.

In fact, wild turkeys can fly. Turkeys raised domestically cannot because they get too fat. Maybe that’s something to think about when shunning the afternoon walk for more TV time or when deciding on if you really want that fourth piece of pie. Then again, maybe not.

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