One of my favorite Thanksgivings involved a big discussion on gravy.
It was the year my two younger brothers and I drove to Pennsylvania to celebrate the holiday with relatives – big doings, as it was the only time in our history that we weren’t with our immediate family (eight siblings) on Thanksgiving.
My Uncle Harry wanted to get rid of an old desk and chair (a wedding gift to him from my grandparents) and I, at 24 furnishing my first real apartment and sentimentally swayed, wanted it. Thanksgiving seemed the perfect opportunity.
Waving good-bye to Mom as we left the driveway, we had mixed feelings — yes, we wanted to explore, get out of the nest, but we also felt unsettled and a bit homesick over not being with Mom, Dad and the others on a very traditional day.
Then the gravy “discussions” began, and from that moment on, my brothers and I felt much more comfortable. “Just like home,” we whispered, jabbing each other with our elbows while sitting at my aunt’s prized Chippendale table awaiting the main star and its velvety, drippy, heartwarming companion — gravy!
We listened to Aunt Mary, Uncle Harry, and a few other older guests (one from France … the very proper Claude – pronounced Clode, which my brothers and I still laugh about) argue the fine points of making gravy. Gathered around the steamy, hot stove, one was tilting the turkey pan to catch drippings for ladling into the gravy, another was standing with cornstarch in hand, one was stirring … and they all (except Clode) were swearing!
“Too many damn drippings – Stop!"
Only a teaspoon of starch. Wait, you don’t use flour?"
Should have bought a couple jars of it this year. D*##! Is it thickening?
Too much salt! ##***#@!
It’s getting lumpy! $***@!”
Just like home!
Now every time I serve gravy, I return to the Chippendale table in Pennsylvania — the Norman Rockwell-esque scene — and think about how gravy makers everywhere share the bond of hoping to create bubbling perfection.
Pass the Gravy Recipes
As mentioned on Day 1 of our 12-day Countdown to Thanksgiving, there are a few sensitive digestive systems gathered around my Thanksgiving Day table. That requires me to make two gravies.
I swear by Heinz’s Home Style Roasted Turkey Gravy (you can pick some up at Westborn Market or Kroger in Dearborn). At “gravy time,” I’ll throw on one of my charming handmade aprons (make your own with fabrics and patterns from The Material Girls), open up two large jars (18 ounces each) of Heinz gravy, pour them into a pot, and add some drippings from the roasting turkey. I’ll then toss the jars into the recycling bin (not the one under the sink, mind you, but the one in the garage … so no one sees the jars!). Note: This must be done way before guests arrive, for obvious reasons.
After discovering Heinz gravy a few years back, I was confident that I’d be able to fool relatives and escape ever having to make it from scratch.
Not so! Enter wheat allergies! ##**! Sadly, Heinz gravy (and most store-bought gravy) has wheat flour in it. Yes, Megan, you’ll have to learn to make it just as your relatives did so many years before you. Thankfully, The Cooking Light Gluten Free Cookbook (Oxmoor House) features an easy gravy recipe, as does The Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman. This year, I’m excited about Lifetime Fitness’ Experience Life magazine’s “Light Turkey Gravy” recipe (with no wheat or gluten, recipe follows).
Beyond allergies, some celebrants like to avoid the fattiness of gravy. “We don't eat a lot of gravy because it tends to have too many calories, too much fat, too much cholesterol, etc.,” said Jennifer Forche of Troy. “However, when we do want a delicious gravy, we use the Turkey Gravy Base from Williams-Sonoma at Somerset. It’s delicious!”
My friend Susan Olson only dreams about making perfect gravy. For her, and the many aunts, uncles and grandparents before us, making it is a challenge.
“I wish I could ‘gravy,’ ” Olson shared with me. “I am horrible at it.” She loved her mom’s gravy and now looks to her brother, Steve, for sauce perfection. He's an engineer for Kraft foods who loves to, ironically, make foods from scratch.
“We all kinda stood around the stove on Thanksgiving the first year after my mom died,” Susan recalled. “I was about to toss the drippings and Steve yelled, “I need that for the gravy!” Steve’s gravy, like his mom’s, is smooth and not greasy, said Olson. “He has the knack.”
RECIPE: Lifetime Fitness’ Light Turkey Gravy
(makes two cups)
1 shallot, minced
1 T. butter
¼ tsp. dried, rubbed sage
¼ tsp. dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1 T. potato starch
2 cups turkey stock and pan drippings
¼ cup apple cider or cold water
salt and pepper to taste
fresh sage and rosemary (if desired, to garnish)
In a small saucepan, sauté minced shallot in butter over low heat until caramelized, or light golden brown. Add dried sage and rosemary and sauté one minute. Mix in potato starch, then set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine stock and cider, and bring to a simmer. Stir the potato starch mixture into the simmering stock and stir until gravy is thickened. Season with salt and pepper according to taste. Garnish with fresh sage and rosemary.
Wednesday, Day 5: Join me in the turkey trenches, searching for the perfect bird to suit your style and taste preferences.