Learning to Cook a Turkey & How to Celebrate Thanksgiving

From Tamales to Turkey

For the first part of my life we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.  At least if we did, no me acuerdo.  Instead we’d go about our business like any other day, save for the fact us kids didn’t have to go to school and most years my father didn’t have to work.  If we did have anything in the way of a holiday meal it more than likely involved mole or tamales.  Even when we did start celebrating this occasion our pavo usually ended up drenched in some thick layer of comino based sauce anyway.  It just tasted better that way.

All I remember is that there was one year when we came home and there was a turkey on the kitchen table.  En México there wasn’t any reason to cook an entire turkey like that, all in one piece, so pobre de mi madre, hard as she tried she couldn’t get the natural juices to remain within the monstrosity of this bird.  She tried basing it with salsa roja, then verde, then a whole concoction of other ingredients, but none of them worked.  The damn thing always came out tasting dry and kind of unappetizing.  It actually tasted better the day after in tacos de maiz or revuelto con huevo.  Then there was the whole question of turkey stuffing!  Mamá didn’t like the idea of placing crouton-looking things alone up the fanny of this wild bird and instead would cut up wieners or chorizo and mix them in with the stuffing.  Believe it or not, these ocurrencias actually did help.

Little by little her turkeys began tasting more and more American.

We knew so because at school they fed us the real deal, succulent turkey breast, topped with gravy, a side of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and green beans.  It couldn’t get any more traditional than that… or so we thought.

Then there was the whole idea of sitting around the table and saying out loud what you were thankful for.  It really seemed like a silly idea, and the one year we actually attempted it none of us could help giggling at what the others were saying.  It was unnatural.  Kind of like taking grapes and eating them at midnight on New Year’s Eve or waiting until Christmas morning to open all of your presents.  We don’t have the patience for any of that.  Instead, after that, we resorted to the usual.  Taking turns sitting around the table and stuffing our faces with turkey, tamales, buñelos, frijoles, pico de gallo, salsa de molcajete, tortillas, hot chocolate, arroz, and the occasional pie.  Our table was literally a hodgepodge of whatever concoction walked through the door or sounded like a good idea to my mother.

Granted in the years since my sisters have figured out how to properly cook a turkey and maintain its succulence, we’ve fully incorporated the pie into the evening’s menu, beans and rice have been replaced with mashed potatoes and gravy, and tamales now only make an occasional appearance uno que otro año.  It’s not that we’ve lost touch with our roots.  It’s that we’ve assimilated new ones into the mix.

Offering thanks in front of each other?  Well that’s still kind of embarrassing.

Pero aprovechando that no one is looking as I write this post, I’ll go ahead and give my thanks here now.  I’m thankful for all of the wonderful people in my life: my parents, whom God has blessed me with; all four of my sisters and my two brothers, los quiero a todos infinitamente; my own family, Anjelica and Edgar, wow, I love you guys so much; all of my nieces and nephews; my extended family and friends, who always amaze me with their generosity and cariño; for everyone and anyone who has ever crossed my path and touched my life in any way; for health, happiness and faith; to all of you who continue to offer such amazing support in my journey of words; and especially to my Dios for all of the amazing miracles he’s allowed me to experience, not the least of which is life itself.

I hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving Day!

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6 thoughts on “Learning to Cook a Turkey & How to Celebrate Thanksgiving

  1. Happy Thanksgiving big brother. You’re one of the people I’m thankful for for always being there for me since I was a little girl 🙂

  2. awww I really loved this post— especially cause I even laughed as I thought of how we would laugh when we were told to say what we were thankful for. Pobre de tu madre… i think its real beauty and culture how as mexicanos we have incorporated our own traditions into thanksgiving– especially since thats were it stems back from– two cultures coming together— hope u had an amazing day!

    1. Gracias, Nikkeya!! It’s so true… for a minute the thought of assimilation made me resistant, but I think in small ways, the way we’ve grown up with this reality, it can be very “organic” of a process, jajaja! yes, i said organic…

  3. I don’t really remember celebrating Thanksgiving when I was little, but I do know we celebrated it. To my Dad it was a point of pride to be able to afford the turkey and all the trimmings. We always did the traditional full turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, etc. But we never the did “giving thanks” part. That didn’t start until we were all much older.

  4. That really sounds like a Thanksgiving meal done right, Sandra. Maybe eventually we’ll give the giving thanks part a chance again now that we are all older and supposedly more “mature”… though I have a feeling it still might take some getting used to 🙂

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