Eating Over The Sink
Since Glorious Spouse and I have become low carbers, the thing I miss most about stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey is getting rid of last year’s Christmas fruitcake. Designated-drivers not withstanding, there should be bumper stickers that read “Friends Should Not Let Friends Give Fruitcakes.”
Picture the scene as it used to be: It is late December of any year. Glorious Spouse and I are standing with “The Fruitcake” poised over our largest bowl, tearing the cake apart. First, we whisper a soft “so sorry” into the air in the general direction of DearFriend’s house, the same DearFriend who lovingly made “The Fruitcake,” beginning in August and adding more and more booze as the weeks went by. Then, with no further ado, we pitch all those square yellow things go into the trash.
Don’t email to tell me those squares are called candied citron. I agree with Glorious Spouse’s opinion. “Who do you suppose had a nightmare and invented those things?” (She asked this rhetorical question every year while we were reenacting our little tradition.) Next, into the trash go all those little green hunks, even the green cherries. Green things ought not to bounce when dropped on the counter top. And, into yet another pile go all the little red blobs.
Back to the scene: We would pause to think, and would keep the red blobs. We might want to use the little red nubbins on top of a sweet potato casserole, maybe for Thanksgiving next year. So they go into a small plastic bag. Of course, similar red nubbins from previous years’ fruitcakes that we didn’t use for sweet potato casseroles or anything else have already found their way into oblivion, but Hope Springs Eternal.
Only the crumbled sweet cake and the nuts go into the bowl, and we scoop it all into a large Zip Lock bag. We know that next year we’ll be glad we did this. Turkey stuffing made with fruitcake, sans red, yellow, and green things, tastes really good. But, we always kept the idea as our secret ingredient. We didn’t want DearFriend to find out the fate of his Work of Art.
Now, I hear you asking, “How can broken-up fruitcake possibly last a year in the freezer?” It point of fact, it will last 100 years in the freezer. The brandy and whiskey and rum and Bacchus-knows what else DearFriend puts in there will keep it ’til the Final Thanksgiving. When we took the fruitcake from the freezer for Thanksgiving last year, it looked just as good as when we put it in cold storage the year before. It would look just as good any year you pick.
Let’s shift scenes. It now any number of Thanksgiving mornings. Glorious Spouse and I are up before the sun to get the stuffing prepared and to set the big bird a-cooking. The house is quiet; everyone else is sleeping. Life is good, and we are duly thankful.
We are ready to start cooking. We have our bag of last year’s (perfectly preserved) fruitcake. We have our bag of Mrs.You-Know-Who’s turkey dressing mix. We have our chopped carrots, and some un-candied green things. We also have all the slices from a loaf of the cheapest white bread, laid out on two shelves in the oven, all dried to hardtack.
Which brings me to my mother. When I was a kid, I helped her in the kitchen getting the Thanksgiving bird ready. In those days, turkeys had a lot of the little hard ends of feathers sticking out of the skin. My mother called these pin feathers, and we had to get rid of them, but we couldn’t just pull them out. They don’t budge. She’d burn them off by holding the whole bird over the fire of the stove to singe them off. The turkey was heavy, and she wasn’t all that strong, but I was learning at my mother’s knee that no chore was too great for the Thanksgiving Feast.
And, that is where I learned that no regulation Thanksgiving stuffing can be prepared without a loaf of the cheapest white bread laid out on two shelves in the oven, all dried to hardtack. But here’s the strange part: she took each piece of hard bread, soaked it briefly in a bowl of salted water, squeezed out the bread, and put the mashed glob in with the already-cooked onions, celery, and garlic. The question loomed: “Why dry the bread, if you’re going to wet it again?”
Knowing that one doesn’t query the wisdom of the chef, particularly when the chef is your mother, I didn’t ask for a long time. But I finally did ask, and the answer was: to get the salted water into the bread.
Apparently, putting salt on torn pieces of bread taken out of the package doesn’t do it.
Well, friends this year and for all the years to come, there will be no last year’s fruitcake on Thanksgiving, no cheap white bread dried to hardtack, no Mrs. Cornbread’s dressing mix. Those are part of the bygone era. We are 100% low carbers, and the turkey will get stuffed with chopped cauliflower, homemade sausage, whole small onions, stalks of celery, an orange cut in quarters, some sprigs of parsley and rosemary, and a few bay leaves.
And we’ll have steamed spinach, cucumber salad, and broccoli. No sweet potato casserole with or without red blobs. Aunt Hannah will probably make a sage dressing as a side dish, and bring it along for those who must eat bread stuffing, but it won’t be the same. (How could it be, without the secret ingredient?)
A sad tear falls, true. We really used to love the taste of that secret fruit cake stuffing, but I’m looking on the bright side. Next month, when DearFriend comes knocking on the door to offer glad tidings and his pride-and-joy fruitcake, we intend to say, “Oh dear; oh dear. We can’t take it this year. We don’t eat cake anymore; we’re low carbers now.”
ZACK GRADY writes from Southern California. He reads cookbooks, but mostly, he just adds garlic and hot sauce.