The Thanksgiving meal is a theatrical event that features a peculiar cast of characters.
Take the turkey, the undisputed star of the show. A domesticated turkey is an empty-headed birdbrain that spends his life eating and drinking and sleeping and pooping. He hasn't a care in the world, including where the nearest toilet might be. In other words, he's the envy of most guys.
And yet on Thanksgiving day, the turkey basks in the spotlight as if he were the world's most celebrated superstar! His day begins with a spa treatment that includes a vigorous rubdown with oil or butter. He is stuffed to the gills with goodies, then invited to lie down in a warm place for a nice, long nap. By dinnertime, he's sporting a golden glow that makes it appear that he has spent quality time on a tanning bed. What a life! Oh, to be a turkey!
Or consider the humble sweet potato. I have grown sweet potatoes and can testify that they are one ugly tuber. They are wrinkly and gnarly, with cracks and crevices where untold quantities of dirt can hide. (My wife would like to point out that this sounds very similar to someone she knows.)
But come Thanksgiving, the lowly sweet potato is transformed into one of the leading attractions of the dining room tableau. The grubby root crop will have been scrubbed and dressed up in its Sunday-go-to-meeting finery. Perhaps its role involves pecans or maybe something even more fabulous such as marshmallows. The possibilities are both exotic and infinite. As a sweet potato might say, "I yam what I yam!"
Few fruit are more humdrum than the apple. The apple spends all spring and summer hanging out with his pals and watching the world go by and becoming closely acquainted with local birds and worms. And during this entire time, the apple performs no useful work whatsoever; it neither sows nor reaps! There is much to be said for such a lifestyle.
Yet on the fourth Thursday of November, few fruits garner higher praise than the apple. The apple has been peeled and bathed in sugar and lovingly placed in a cushy crust. Jaws drop when it makes its grand entrance enrobed in golden brown pastry. As if that weren't enough, additional embellishments such as whipped topping or ice cream might come into play! It would appear that a life of sloth can bring some sweet rewards.
Many of us wouldn't mind living the life of a cranberry. You get to spend vast expanses of quality time hanging with your buds down in the frog-infested bog. As fall approaches, rumors may begin to circulate about you being "tart" and "juicy." This makes you blush a deep crimson, which only serves to make you seem even more interesting.
It's a universal belief that no Thanksgiving meal would be complete without cranberries. Cranberries can show up in any form, be they crushed into a relish or baked into a cobbler. At our house, their most traditional form has always been a jiggling jelly that is shaped suspiciously similar to the inside of a can.
But no performer deserves more credit for a successful Thanksgiving meal than the unpretentious potato.
Sometimes appearing under the "nom de guerre" of "pomme de terre," the potato is an essential and versatile actor. Having grown up in the hardscrabble "underground," this vegetative thespian is the least likely to bear false witness against other foods, despite its abundance of eyes.
Potatoes can appear on the stage as scalloped or fried or boiled. But mashed potatoes are an essential part of any Thanksgiving table drama. You can use mashed potatoes to construct gravy reservoirs or intricate gravy hydraulic projects. Smashed spuds can also form a barrier that separates food groups, keeping the carrots from conflicting with the corn, making sure that the ham doesn't steal the show from the Jell-O.
Perhaps the best and highest calling for mashed potatoes is when they take the stage as lefse.
Every Thanksgiving, my mom and her daughters and granddaughters get together and make mounds of mouth-watering, tissue-thin lefse. It might appear that there is enough lefse to feed the Third Fleet, but we somehow manage to make it all disappear.
Lefse can be used in a "mopping up" role or can be spooled around nearly any victuals, up to and including another roll of lefse. One of the most moving scenes I've ever seen was when lefse made a curtain call by wrapping itself around a hunk of leftover turkey.
We should all remember to give thanks on Thanksgiving. And a standing ovation wouldn't hurt either.