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Larry McDermott: Putting on the memory cap for Thanksgiving
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Larry McDermott: Putting on the memory cap for Thanksgiving

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The headlines are warning us that there might not be enough turkey and fixings to go around this year. What that really means is it’s time to improvise.

Everything we do in America is affected by supply and demand, but there aren’t any turkeys out there on those container ships. Or at least if there are, I don’t think you want to eat them.

So improvise.

If you can’t find the turkey you want in the grocery store, farmers raise them for Thanksgiving. Get on the phone and start looking around. In our BR (before retirement) time period, we raised turkeys organically and processed them right there on the farm. Our customers reserved them in advance and paid a pretty penny for them, even though grocery store turkeys raised in factory farms were cheaper than Stove Top Stuffing Mix.

You would be lucky to find a locally grown turkey at this point in the game, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Call the local county extension agent’s office and ask for a list of farmers selling them.

As a country boy, I never had turkey at Thanksgiving. My mother always cooked chicken. Actually, two chickens. We raised our chickens, so she had her eye on the two fattest hens in the chicken yard well before Thanksgiving.

Why two hens? Well, for one thing, there were six mouths to feed. But more important were the juices they created when cooking. That’s what helped make the cornbread dressing moist and tasty. But the delicacy it helped the most were dumplings.

If you’ve never eaten country chicken and dumplings, you haven’t been completely fulfilled in your life.

Mama flattened her dough with a rolling pin, cut the large piece into about 2-inch squares, then dropped them into a huge pan filled with her boiling secret concoction that included drippings from the fat hens.

These dumplings were always the star of the show.

The roasted hens were carved and mounded on a platter about the size of a satellite dish — dark meat in one section, white meat in another. The coveted “wishbones” were set aside to dry so my siblings and I could have our tug-of-war to see who got the shortest piece of bone when it snapped, entitling us to make a secret wish.

The rest of the menu was pretty much the same every year, always including the glue that held the meal together. I speak here of cast iron skillet gravy, that brown stuff as thick as corn syrup and poured over all things chicken on your plate.

Biscuits were for sopping up the gravy and dumpling juices.

The meal would have been incomplete without cranberry sauce. Not the gourmet stuff. The kind that comes in a can. She would open both ends of the can and coax the cylindrical mass onto a plate, where it jiggled. Sliced for serving, its pieces were wedged into the nooks and crannies surrounding the green beans, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, dressing and dumplings on our plates.

It was enough to jack up the heart rate in advance and put us into a coma for the remainder of the day.

So don’t go believing the television headlines. You can have a great Thanksgiving without turkey.

Larry McDermott is a retired North Carolina farmer/journalist. Contact him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com.

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