For those of us who enjoy the culinary arts, Thursday is the Super Bowl of Cooking. Huge pieces of poultry that need to be roasted to just the right temperature or they dry out, family-tradition recipes that will draw complaints if they don't taste "the way they always have", and the challenge of having nearly a dozen items time out perfectly so everything can get on the table together. And just like the players and the teams in the football version of the Super Bowl were better and more skilled in the past--the cooks who put on these huge feasts in yesteryear are much better than those of us today.
I came to that realization over the weekend as I did prep work on the ingredients I would need for the stuffing that I was bringing for our Thanksgiving potluck here at the Radio Ranch on Monday. Chopping onions, celery and fresh herbs took almost an hour--and I consider myself fairly skilled with a chef's knife. And then it was another hour yesterday morning to mix and bake it. Plus, I was making just one element of the meal for about 15-people. One of my grandmothers had to cook for almost thirty people when I was a kid. And she made a meat stuffing that required her to grind the sausage before she made it.
In hosting my parents and in-laws the last few years at our house, I've had to cook for only six people every year--and that's exhausting. How did a woman in her sixties and seventies manage to make FIVE TIMES as much food--and have it taste even better? She peeled all of the potatoes before boiling and mashing them--I leave the skin on (much to the chagrin of my father-in-law). She boiled her yams, then sliced them and pan-fried them in butter--I just throw one big one in the oven. She had to make those big 25 pound turkeys that required you to get up at 6:00 am to get in the oven so it was done by 4:00 in the afternoon--I get by with a 12-14 pounder that usually gets done in about 2 and a half hours. She had to eyeball the bird to know when it was done--I've got a remote thermometer that provides me up to the minute temps and beeps when the meat is done. Grandma also baked all of the pies--likely from real pumpkins, not that canned stuff and rolling out the dough by hand--I leave the pie-making to my wife now.
And Grandma's reward for all of that hard work with 70's ear cooking equipment? Having to wait until everyone else had eaten before she got to sit down and enjoy the lukewarm leftovers that her kids and grandkids didn't cram in their bellies. Sitting with a few of her daughters--while everyone went back into the living room to watch the second half of the football game.
Today's Thanksgiving feast may be easier--but it certainly isn't better than it used to be.