Home Columns

Wahl to Wall: Gobble up some turkey

Paul Wahl is the editor of the Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on November 21, 2017 10:08AM

Is it only me or does time seem to fly at a nanosecond pace during the holiday portion of the year? Seems like yesterday we were running results from the county fair and, boom, it’s Thanksgiving.

They say time flies when you’re having fun.

Most of us have fond and warm memories of Thanksgiving Day –– the food, the traditions, the football games ... and don’t forget the food.

The centerpiece is most often turkey. Historians tell us has that has been the case since President Abraham Lincoln created a national day of thanksgiving.

Of course, turkeys have long been associated with Christmas. Remember Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol?”

Some culinary historians believe Scrooge’s gift of a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit family helped cement the turkey’s place at the center of the holiday meal for both modest and affluent households.

Having lived for 20 years in Minnesota –– the top turkey-producing state in the national –– we have had our share of the big birds. Because of the abundant supply, turkeys often sold for as little as 39 cents a pound or sometimes were given free or nearly free with a minimum purchase at one of the major grocery stores.

Stuffing has long been an art and a science in my family. It involves copious quantities of dried bread, a mix of ingredients and spices and, most importantly, not packing it too tight into the bird.

The recipe began with my great-grandmother on mother’s side whose decidedly German-from-Russia heritage was evident. You didn’t toss anything into the garbage. Dried bread was the perfect beginnings for stuffing. Not cornbread. That was for southerners.

My grandmother and aunts added their own variations, including the switch from homemade bread dried to French bread. Apparently it added special panache, that je ne sais quoi. Who knows. Perhaps it was because my grandmother was getting older and baking less bread in her wood-fired stove on a weekly basis.

My mother added touches of her own as did my sisters. Mom omitted sage since it was not one of her favorite spices. One sister began adding celery to the recipe. Anathema to the traditionalists in the family, but a hit with those looking to eat more healthy. Hey, celery is green.

I make a version of the stuffing that is mostly my own, but keeping as many of the traditional ingredients as possible. Some years back, we had friends who had lived on the East Coast and their tradition was fresh oysters in their stuffing.

It took two years of experimenting, but by year three, I had developed a very edible oyster stuffing. The key being that the oysters really only needed to be heated through. Any additional cooking turns them into tiny bits of shoe leather.

Of course, during those years, I had to make two versions of stuffing for those who were not oyster lovers.

WE HAVE also had the good fortune to live in communities where free Thanksgiving meals for all comers were served. My first exposure to this was in my wife’s hometown, Delano, Calif.

One day in late October, the of the local Cadillac dealership, came to the newspaper and began telling me about his plan to provide a meal for anyone who wanted to come free. Our contribution was to be the advertising. The idea grew out of his Sikh religion.

It was also intended as an open house for his newly constructed dealership. The service bays were cleaned to the point where you could eat off the floor –– literally –– and that first event attracted around 500 people. It remains a tradition in Delano to this day.

In Minnesota, many Lutheran churches served a free Thanksgiving meal. The community we moved here from, Montrose, Colo., produced a meal that fed around 2,000 people hearty doses of turkey and ham, potatoes and pies. Some folks came only for the pies, they were that good.

We were pleased to discover that Wallowa County has its own version of the free Thanksgiving meal. It will be served 1 p.m. at the Community Connection Senior Center, 702 NW 1st St., Enterprise.

The menu features turkey and all the trimmings. Guests are asked to bring a donation for the Community Connection Food Bank. Reservations are not necessary.

See you there!


Share and Discuss


User Comments