I remember Thanksgiving at my
Grandma's house as a young child. My family would drive
the old tree lined roads through farm country, singing,
"Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's
house we go." Entering the old farmhouse through the
kitchen, we would smell the turkey cooking in the wood
stove and get a kiss from Grandma. Then we'd be off to
play with all our cousins till dinner was ready. There
were 14 grandchildren in all.
I remember sneaking into the kitchen
later as the hunger and anticipation got unbearable.
Grandma would give me a cup of whipped cream to eat with
a spoon. This was a real treat and not usually allowed,
but then she always spoiled us grandkids. Her whipped
cream was wonderful; fresh from her own dairy cows. When
dinner time finally came, the amount of food on the table
was always overwhelming. The pies were my favorite part,
along with red jello topped with more whipped
This is where my actual memories end.
As I got older, we began to celebrate Thanksgiving at
home with our own family of seven. The rest of this story
is from my mother's memories of her childhood
Thanksgiving celebrations in that old house.
The farm was near Conewango Valley,
Cattauragus County in Western New York. My mother grew up
in the 30's and 40's. The electric lines did not come
through until she was a teenager. They used kerosene
lamps for light. Their water came from a hand pump, which
was outside at first, then in the kitchen sink. Wood
stoves were used for cooking and heating. There was no
plumbing, just an outhouse and chamber pots for cold
winter nights. In many ways, life then was not much
different than it had been a century before. Although my
mother is only 69, I think she remembers a true old
fashioned country holiday.
Thanksgiving dinner on the farm was
scheduled around the deer hunting. The feast was served
in the evening after the hunters came in. Friends and
relatives who hunted on the property would be out early
on Thanksgiving morning. Their families would come later
in the day to help with preparations and join the feast.
Everyone was welcome, and my grandmother would always
cook a 30 pound turkey. She would prepare the turkey, put
it in the oven, and be out with the hunters before
Yes, my grandma hunted. In fact, there
was even an article about it in the Jamestown newspaper.
For thirteen years running, she got a deer the first
morning of hunting season, always with just one shot. My
aunts still hunt out in Conewango, but my mom never
really enjoyed it.
My mother and the other relatives who
didn't hunt would begin some of the food preparations
later in the morning. There would be big bowls of shiny
red apples and nuts placed around the house to snack on.
At midday, the hunters would come in for lunch. If anyone
had shot a deer, lunch would be fresh venison liver,
soaked in salt water, sliced, and fried with onions.
Otherwise, they would have sandwiches and coffee. My
grandmother would then stay in and cook while the other
hunters went back out until dinner, which would be served
Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for
that many people was quite a task. Surprisingly, most
everything was prepared fresh. My mother and the other
women would start in the morning and cook all day. Most
of the food was grown on the farm. There was the
traditional fare; turkey with bread stuffing, mashed
potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes with brown sugar and
butter, homemade rolls, and cranberry sauce. The squash
was boiled, then mashed with butter, salt and pepper.
They also had Waldorf salad and baked beans. My
grandmother was best known for her pies. After hunting
all morning, she would bake eight pies that afternoon.
There were always apple, cherry, and mince pies; and of
course pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream.
When the time finally came to sit down
for dinner, my grandfather would say grace and carve the
turkey. Then came the feasting, talking and laughing with
family and friends. After dinner, my grandmother would
play the piano and everyone would gather around to sing.
My mother says that Thanksgiving is
her favorite day of the year. It is one holiday without a
lot of stress and running around. She can stay home,
relax, and focus on cooking a wonderful meal or the
family. Since those childhood days on the farm, she has
always enjoyed the smells and flavors of Thanksgiving.
She has passed on her holiday traditions. Five children
(me included!) and eight grandchildren still enjoy her
wonderful cooking every Thanksgiving.