Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Dainty Serving"

"The advisability of making the dishes attractive by dainty serving is not enough appreciated by the busy housewife. It seems so much easier to dish the meat and vegetables 'anyhow,' than to use the extra exertion needed to make them pretty, that she is apt to grow careless. Habit is everything in such matters. The practice once acquired of arranging the food to please the eye, as well as the palate, the added labor is taken for granted and seldom observed."

With these subtly scolding words, the Queen of the Household gently exhorts the Victorian era homemaker to pay attention not only to how food is prepared, but to how it is dished out as well. The advice is relevant even today, since in our busier-than-ever twenty-first century lives, we are apt to eat on the run or slap together a sandwich on a paper plate even at home.

Thanksgiving place setting
Fortunately, family gatherings at holidays such as Thanksgiving usually break this daily pattern. This is the one day all year that Americans of all faiths and ages trot out their best china and linens  --  perhaps the chipped Stanglware inherited from Mom and the thrice-mended lace tablecloth of Grandma's. They polish the tarnished silver spoon that came from Great-grandma's trousseau and the cut-glass Fostoria goblets that were Aunt Marg's.

Each family has its own traditional Thanksgiving recipes for turkey, stuffing, vegetables, and pies. Here are a few from Great-grandma Nan's book of household hints and recipes. They are part of the Thanksgiving menu proposed by the Queen of the Household in 1891. (See last week's post for the whole menu list.)

Turnips
Turnips:
Pare and cut into pieces; put them into boiling water well salted, and boil until tender; drain thoroughly and then mash, and add a piece of butter, pepper and salt to taste, and a small teaspoon sugar; stir until they are thoroughly mixed, and serve hot.



Sweet potatoes
Sweet Potatoes:
Sweet potatoes require from 45 to 55 minutes to boil, and from 1 to 1 1/4 hours to bake; the time given will make the potatoes moist and sweet; if, however, they are preferred dry and mealy, 15 minutes less will be enough.

Celery

Celery:

Wash, trim and scrape the stalks, selecting those that are white and tender; crisp by leaving in ice-cold water until they are wanted for the table; arrange neatly in a celery-glass; pass between the oysters and the meat.





We did not have oysters at our Thanksgiving dinner this year, but we did have the traditional turkey and stuffing, and two kinds of vegetables: carrots and turnips. These are two root vegetables, which our forebears were able to keep well in root cellars before the days of refrigeration.

The meal was scrumptious and daintily served. The colors on my plate mimicked those of the late November landscape outside my window:

Bon appetit!

But we all saved room for pie . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!  (Thank you to Margriet W. for hosting this year's feast.)

                                                                                   *  *  *

This afternoon, my husband and I drove west into the Mohawk Valley for a visit to the old homestead. We brought pumpkin and apple pies for a post-Thanksgiving treat. Flipping through old photo albums, we saw pictures of Grandma Minnie as a young adult, with her proud parents holding one toddler after another as her family grew. I feel fortunate to have those scenes of life as it was lived 100 years ago in the neighborhood where Dad grew up.

We drove homeward as the afternoon sun waned, and as we came over the crest of a hill, we could see the skyline of Albany in the distance. I slowed down as a family of wild turkeys crossed the road in front of the car. As we approached home, pink and purple streaks in the sky were reflected in the Schoharie Creek and the Watervliet Reservoir. The sun slid behind the pines as I pulled into the driveway. The long holiday weekend was over.

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