Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 11-19-12
Turkey Day is a favorite holiday, probably because the focus is food and more food and being thankful for said chow. Here’s the kicker: If you’re a ranch wife, you get the fun of preparing mountains of vittles. Sometimes you even have the ultimate privilege of personally murdering, scalding, plucking, singeing, de-gutting, preparing sage, onion, carrots, raisins and celery stuffing and shoving it into the appropriate bird-body cavities.
Taking a walk down memory trails, I fished out “The Ranch Woman’s Manual,” the book I wrote way back in 1975 in which I offered ranch-woman advice for getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas food consumption. Read on for an abridged version of how things used to be — and still are if you’re a country woman.
The thinking Ranch Woman will evolve an attack plan to cope with Holidays. Organization and stamina are the keys to success. During this season of the year, avoid colds and flu. Even if you come down with something, you’re not allowed to take time out to be sick.
Begin by dividing the work and activities into manageable parts. You will need to plan Thanksgiving food, Christmas food and New Year’s food. Pick a week in early November for the Food Preparation Attack.
■ Day One: Basic fancy breads. Stir up batter for six loaves each of two kinds of quick breads. Utilize your stash of home-canned fruits, vegetables and anything pickled to toss into the basic cake batters. Think in terms of six batches of everything. Pour into loaf pans. When still hot from the oven, pour over a lemon glaze. Let loaves cool, wrap individually in foil and freeze. Whip out to thaw and serve as needed.
■ Day Two: Stir up a basic white cake and a basic spice-applesauce cake. Double these recipes three times. To each of the cake recipes add a lot of raisins, currants, dried fruits and some smashed nuts. Then add a half cup of liquor — any kind. Arrange maraschino cherry halves in artful designs over the tops. Bake in pans or round cans that have airtight lids. Voila! You have “fruit cakes” to give away or serve to company.
■ Day three: Stir up a big batch of yeast-bread dough. Use buttermilk and several eggs in the batter. When the dough is ready to work, make a variety of shapes (squares, rounds, braids, sticks, sandwiches or whatever). Spread surfaces with butter, sprinkle generously with cinnamon, raisins, currants and nuts. Leave some plain with just celery seed sprinkled over. Arrange in foil pans and freeze. When needed, put on heater stove to raise, then bake when ready.
■ Day four: Cookie baking. By now you’re sick of the whole food preparation business, so call on the lovely Norwegian lady who does specialty baking as a hobby. Order six dozen of everything she makes. Mark off day four on your calendar. Take the afternoon to sit down and read a trashy novel.
■ Day five: Devote to making jellies using all that canned berry juice lurking in the root cellar. Make as many different varieties of jellies as you have kinds of juice. Fill little bitty jars (baby food jars are just right). Seal with paraffin, mark name of each variety on an angel or Santa sticker and apply to jar lid. You now have plenty of gifts to send, give away. (If you have leftover bits of juice, combine into one pot. Make a final big batch of jelly and pour into pint jars for the family and label them “Fruit Surprise.”)
■ Day Six: Make candy. Some women are talented candy makers. They can produce creams, mints, bonbons and an army of unnamed confections. If candy making is not your bag, follow the recipe for fudge on the side of the cocoa box. Use real cream instead of milk and stir in extra butter. You can rarely miss. Think in terms of four. Make four batches of fudge, two plain, two with nuts. Pour a nut and a plain into buttered pans. When set, cut into inch squares. Half fill two large flat pans — heavily buttered — with rice Crispies. Pour fudge over. Sprinkle tops with peanuts and/or coconut and maraschino cherries.
■ On Day seven — rest. You deserve it.
Nowadays, I’m proud to report that I accept any invitation to eat out — either at a restaurant or a friend’s domicile where homemade is still practiced. Some Thanksgivings, I manage two or three separate meals at different times of the day. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. ❖