"Brookfield Farm, Upper Darby, PA" watercolor by Frank English 1854-1922

Grandma's Farm

by Linda and Jean Pascatore

(C) 1999 The Gobbler,reprinted from Feast, 1993


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 cream.

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 sunrise.

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 after dark.

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.


Thanksgiving Day
Over the river and through the wood,
To granfather's house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river and through the wood--
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes
And bites the nose
As over the ground we go.
Over the river and through the wood
To have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring,
"Ting-a-ling-ling! "
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!
Over the river and through the wood,
Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground
Like a hunting-hound,
For this is Thanksgiving Day!
Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate
We seem to go
Extremely slow--
It is so hard to wait.
Over the river and through the wood--
Now grandmother's cap I spy!
Hurrah for the sun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!
Lydia Maria Child