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One bit of sage advice I can give to parents and parents-in-law is this: from the moment your child marries, sit down and mutually decide where holidays will be celebrated. Even if your entire family lives in town, it is nice to “own” one or two events. My daughter Rachel suggested this a couple of years ago and, as she aptly put it, “if you don’t reserve one or two holidays for our family, no one will bother to consider the day sacred in terms of always including our siblings and their families.”
We all decided that Thanksgiving and Passover would be our family get-togethers. Ever since Rachel and Jonathan got married five plus years ago, we have gathered together – committed to making these times meaningful. My three kids reside in three states: Iowa, Washington State and California. I know that they look forward to seeing each other as much or more than they anticipate sharing the day with us, the parental units.
For the past six years we have made Thanksgiving a three or four day celebration. One year our brood was comprised of twenty people including three generations, several toddlers, and a few turkey-obsessed dogs. Everyone loads up their cars full of food and family and drives ninety minutes through winding roads to my brother’s remote “cabin.” He built this expansive log structure himself and we always set up extra mattresses and create sleeping areas to accommodate everyone. The log walls lend it a lovely, rustic feel and overstuffed furniture nestled around the wood burning fireplace creates a very comfortable atmosphere.
The in-town family has assignments for food which we bring ready for the oven, grill or table. I always have a large “to bring” list as I arrive with the most extended family. Last year I pulled up to the cabin with nine pretty hefty eaters – so I brought a lot of food! The kitchen is, of course, the centerpiece of the house and my brother built it to be much larger than the one in his home in Seattle. As soon as we arrive we load in bags and pots and containers of food, filling every square inch of kitchen counter space. Then we get to cooking.
Every year we have our “tried and true” dishes front and center – yam casserole, mashed potatoes and Black Bottom Pie. But we inevitably try new recipes. I can’t recall how many versions of cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce we’ve cooked. Last year we decided to experiment with the turkey. We bought a turkey fryer and dropped the entire 12-pound bird into the vat of boiling peanut oil. A mere 90 minutes later we had a beautifully browned, perfectly moist turkey to enjoy. In fact, we had three turkeys last year – fried, roasted and smoked!
One tradition I started years ago is the creation of a huge pot of turkey soup. It’s often hard to imagine eating after the hours-long, early afternoon Thanksgiving meal. We often push back from the table, vowing to never eat again! Regardless, every year I head into the kitchen to attack what is left of the turkey. I break apart the carcass and pull apart the bones and begin simmering my soup. This past year we were treated to an early snow so my kids headed outside to build an army of snowmen and others hiked the tree-lined trails around the property. Several of us huddled around the fire reading, knitting, visiting and napping. By the time the sun set, the kids were wandering into the kitchen, lifting the top off the pot of soup and inquiring about our next meal. Everyone helped pile leftovers into mismatched dishes and Rachel threw together a huge salad. As soon as I settled the steaming pot of soup in the middle of the table, everyone dug in.
Thanksgiving is truly a day filled with gratitude. I can’t imagine any Thanksgiving celebration more wonderful than ours, particularly because we spend three days sequestered in the mountains, eating, playing and just being together. Cheers to the fourteen of us last year (21 this year!) and especially to my brother Kal who organizes this get-together!
Marilyn’s Turkey Soup
- Carcass and bones remaining from 7-10 pound turkey
- 2 cups leftover turkey meat
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled but left whole
- 5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into ½ inch pieces
- 3 stalks celery, diced into ½ inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups of pearl barley, rinsed
- 1 cup dried brown lentils
- 1 cup dried split peas (yellow or green)
- 1 ¼ cup dried large lima beans (or northern beans)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the turkey carcass by ensuring there is some meat left on the bones if possible.
Place the carcass into a large soup pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, lower heat and skim off grey matter that floats to the top.
Add remaining ingredients except salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat for 2-3 hours.
Open lid and remove onion. Season with salt and pepper.
The soup thickens after it stands and cools and is really better the next day, although we never wait. This makes enough for 14 of us with a bit left over!!
Note: if your turkey is larger than 10 lbs, just cut it into pieces and use as much as will fit in your soup pot with the other ingredients. The rest of the carcass can be frozen for up to 2 months when you can make the soup again.