Remembering past Thanksgiving celebrations

Susan Manzke
Susan's homemade goodies include fresh baked break and cookies and her special cranberry sauce.

I love Thanksgiving. The celebrations surround family and, of course, food. There are no gifts to buy or wrap. We come together to enjoy each other’s company and to eat —actually most gatherings involve food, but this time of the year it centers around a dead turkey.

Today, I’m prepping my contributions to our family meal. I made fresh cranberry sauce, not because everyone asked me to bring it. I made it so I could do it my way. When I was a kid, our cranberry side dish was always the shape of the can. These days, I cook up a sauce that has no shape.

Our meal was held the Sunday before Thanksgiving and not on the usual Thursday. We share our children and grandchildren with others across Wisconsin and into Illinois. The date doesn’t really matter as long as we are close enough to hug, talk, and eat.

As I considered my Thanksgiving column, I started searching my memory of past family gatherings. One that comes to mind happened when I was five. I insisted I wanted a whole turkey leg for myself.

Mom offered me pieces of the turkey, but I only wanted the leg and that’s what went on my plate. I took the leg in both hands and took a bite. Of course, there were other things on my plate, so I ate some stuffing and mashed potatoes, too. In the end, you could hardly see where I gnawed on the leg.

I’m not sure what happened to my large leftover. I expect it went into the soup pot — no use wasting all that meat.

Susan about the age she begged for a whole turkey leg. She never ate her pet bunny.

Talking about stuffing, that’s my real contribution to our family Thanksgiving. Everyone requests I make it as my mother did. Well, I come close, but I can’t actually recreate Mom’s recipe because of allergies in the family.

I remember getting up early on Thanksgiving morning to help Mom make her stuffing. She always made a ton as she got the largest turkey available — on sale.

There wasn’t a bowl large enough for the stuffing Mom made. She brought out a porcelain baby bathtub and used that as her bowl and she used every inch of it.

My help was centered on breaking up the dried bread while she fried hamburger with chopped onions and celery. Meanwhile, she had the turkey innards cooking in stock. All eventually went into the bathtub. 

Everything went together, including butter and walnuts, and then came the hard part, wrestling the turkey so we could put the stuffing into its cavity. One time we had such a large turkey, we almost couldn’t get it into our oven.

There’s no measuring when making my dressing. I have long since stopped turkey wrestling and bake my dressing outside of the bird. I mix in an extra-large bread mixing bowl. I make a lot so when we divide up leftovers, everyone can have a share to take home.

Sometimes I make extra loaves of homemade bread to send home with our children. At Thanksgiving, everyone wants buns. The brown and serve rolls are usually the last things to go into the oven and come to the table. A few times they were forgotten and burned. They are too easy to forget as we are ready to dig-in.

There's plenty of homemade bounty to fill many plates for those gathering in the Manzke home around Thanksgiving time.

On Thanksgiving Day, we will take it easy. I’ll put a turkey in the oven, unstuffed. I may make additional stuffing if it is needed and bake a couple of sweet potatoes.

The work comes after our meal when I dissect the carcass and put some into packages for the freezer. Some goes into a soup pot and then barn cats will then get their share.

Thanksgiving can be any day. Actually, every day Bob and I find that there are many things for which we are thankful. Today, we say ‘thank you’ to our readers and for the stories you share with us.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Susan and Bob Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;