As I stood in the kitchen Wednesday, checking my Thanksgiving lists and chopping up turkey heart, liver, and attempting to pull meat from the neck bones, I thought…
What the hell are you doing?
I was making Giblet Gravy actually. But the question was larger than that.
You see giblet gravy is NASTY. Disgusting. I am not sure that even the Will-It-Guys from Good Mythical Morning could eat the stuff. Not without their vom bucket anyway.
In all my life, I have tasted giblet gravy ONCE. When I was about ten. It was one of those…once in a lifetime is one too many experiences.
Yet since I began cooking my own Thanksgiving I make it every single year.
Why, you ask?
Good question…and that was exactly what I was asking myself that night as I rushed to get everything done for the next day.
Giblet gravy is a part of my Thanksgiving tradition.
But anyone who knows me knows that I need far more than that for a reason. Because we have always done it that is not an argument that is likely to gain much favor with me. More likely, I will consider it a strike against something.
For me, it is about what giblet gravy represents. A time when NOTHING went to waste.
You see, I was raised by my Nanny. Not the British paid kind but rather my great-grandmother. We lived in what was called a ‘mill village’. Back then when they built textile factories, they also built dozens or hundreds of simple A-frame, wooden homes that they then sold to their workers with the ‘mortgage’ payment coming out of their paychecks. By the time I came along, it was a dying neighborhood of elderly.
I never had a friend my own age until I went to school. But, oh, the wonderful childhood that I had. I had women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s who paid attention to me, listened to me, stopped their sewing to make Barbie doll clothes for me from the scraps, and told me the most wonderful stories of life…back in the ‘good ole’ days’.
I remember Miss McCall. She was the oldest in the neighborhood and lived just two houses behind us. She was also the only one with a proper basement. It was a wonderfully cool children’s delight on a hot Southern summer day.
Miss McCall’s basement was lined with wooden shelves. Stacked full of glass jars of every color and size. Peaches. Green beans. Corn. Tomatoes. And crab apple jelly. I remember that one especially.
You see, Miss McCall was much too old to bend down and pick up the apples that fell from the tree in her backyard. And most especially to climb its gnarled branches to reaches the ones on its ancient limbs. But I was not. So, Nanny loaned me out. I spent a late summer day picking all those apples up.
Even the ones with worm holes or rotten ones. Hundreds of them. Thousands? It certainly seemed like it to me at the time. And when we were done, I sat with Miss McCall on the front porch as her arthritic hands as gnarled as those tree limbs peeled and cutting away those brown patches of rotten and worm holes. Sometimes what she was left with in the end was not even bite-sized.
But she kept peeling and cutting those bitter tiny little apples. I know just how bitter because I tried to eat a bite of one once. I quickly spit it out. But that was okay because Nanny told me they were not the ‘eatin’ kind anyway. They would have given me a tummy ache.
Suffering as I do now at fifty with arthritis myself, I can only imagine the pain that Miss McCall endured to peel those crab apples. But she kept right on peeling and cutting them.
And telling me stories. I learned of her toddler son who was killed by a firecracker…I still have a greater than normal fear of fire. It was incomprehensible to that little girl though. Yet death surrounded me…the rotten in those apples of life. I had seen men drop on the sidewalk as they swept leaves.
Even children. Not just Miss McCall’s son but Nanny’s Baby Clyde who died of green beans. Canned ones too. Even children that I knew. Much of the nicer clothes I wore came from a distant cousin, just a couple of years older than me. She had died of seizures. My brother’s best friend who had a huge crush on me and was my first kiss I watch waste away from brain tumors.
You learned to hold on to life…even teeny, tiny bite-sizes of bitter apples could be thrown into the big pot. And with a lot of sugar, some cinnamon, and pectin, those bitter apples could be made into crab apple butter.
It filled old jars that were then heated to boiling. I remember listening to the pops of the lids as they sealed. Of course, there was always one or two that did not pop. Those had to be used up right away.
And the next day when those jars had cooled, I helped Miss McCall carry them down into the basement and place them on the shelves with all the others.
When Miss McCall died a couple of years later, distant family, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, people who had never bothered to come and see her when she was alive swooped on that house. They cleared all her things away. And yes, they threw out thousands of glass jars of food…some as old as 20+ years. I am sure that Miss McCall was spinning in her grave as Nanny said.
But the thing is…when you live through hard times like the Great Depression…when you have so very, very little…you appreciate and old onto what you do have.
I was reminded of this yesterday as SistaSarah, Pineapple, and I made turkey rolls with the leftovers and took them out to the homeless. Shush…we had more rolls than we could find homeless late on a cold Friday afternoon in downtown Swansea. So, we offered a couple to each person. And with only one exception, every single one of them asked…are you sure? These people with so very little thought first of others, of their friends. They wanted to make sure that there was enough to go around.
The last woman we saw broke our hearts. We had four left in the box. She reached out her hand and then she stopped. Did you see my friend around the corner? she asked. We had…a woman probably in her fifties like me, so thin it was painful. But this younger woman would not take a single roll…not until we assured her that we had given her friend a couple already.
That is what is wrong with this world today. We waste so much of what we have. It still pains me the amount of food that goes into my recycle bin. And I make a genuine effort.
Like with my giblet gravy. That is why I keep making the nasty stuff…it is more than just the tradition of having it. It is the tradition of truly being THANKFUL for ALL you have. Using up every last bit.
But the other thing that is wrong these days is too many of us forget the importance of sharing what we have. I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by people who get that. I stood crying in the kitchen Thanksgiving. Surrounded by strong, beautiful women. We group hugged as I spoke once more about the impending disaster of Universal Credits.
Ya’ll know I am anything BUT political or religious. Nonetheless, this maybe one of the worst Christmases since Charles Dickens’ wrote A Christmas Carol. It is not just the homeless who will go hungry and cold this year. There will be children too. School children who have little to nothing to eat for 18 days because their one hot meal a day at school is not available.
I feel this especially hard. Because I know that if it were not for the miracle of Cookie Monster in his shining armour who came charging into our lives on the Great Western Railway…the truth is that I might have been forced to take PanKwake back into an unhealthy living situation. You see eighteen months ago we too were dependent upon housing benefit…with a private landlord nonetheless. Without Cookie, I may have faced unthinkable choices. And every time I think about how blessed PanKwake and I are, I break down into tears. As I did that night in the kitchen surrounded by my new friends and his old.
It is up to us, folks. Governments can’t save us. Not even gods or goddesses can. We must save ourselves…and one another.
That is the lesson those old women taught this little girl. No matter how tough life is…you gather what you do have…you cut away the rotten…and make the unusable into the sweet and filling. Then you share it with others.
SistaSarah and I are planning to make this a regular Friday afternoon thing. A few quid can feed so many. That was the real lesson that Jesus was trying to teach with the loaves and fishes. Or the parable of Stone Soup.
I hope that others of you will join us. A little effort really will go a very long way…if each of us does our part.
Remember…No One Is Coming.
It is up to us, folks.
I think that Nanny and Miss McCall would have been proud of that circle of strong women in my kitchen Thanksgiving night.
Though they mighta washed my mouth out with soap for all the cussing I do. But I don’t think they’d have any problem with what is in my heart. Or the heart of the young women who thought first of her friend.