Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Turkey Day in the Southwest

A short Thanksgiving essay of mine has just appeared in the newsletter of The California Writers's Club (West Valley Branch), thanks to their editor, Kathy Highcove. You'll need to scroll down to page 11 of the PDF, where I am honored to have space next to Alice Folkart's essay. Here it is:

Turkey Day in the Southwest

By Bob Sanchez

Kathy Highcove recently asked me to write about food for your Thanksgiving issue, and she could have picked no one more qualified. Indeed I have consumed food my entire life, and for virtually every reason one can imagine: hunger, consolation, gluttony, boredom, celebration, love, parental threats, desire to please, and the time of day, to name but a few.

Thanksgiving gives us one more reason to tie on the bib. It’s that wonderful day when we give thanks for football and our God-given freedom to overeat. In 1950s New England, we’d go to a high-school football game that Thursday morning and return home to the aroma of the baked turkey and mince pie that Mom was just pulling out of the oven. She’d make the piecrust with lard and the gravy with bird grease. Clogged arteries were a thing of the future—the near future, as it turned out.

When we sat down at the table, Dad led us in a swift and perfunctory Bless us oh Lord for all those delights we really took for granted. Critical questions followed: White meat or dark? (Always white for me.) More stuffing? (Yes, please.) Cranberries? (Yes, please.) Lakes of gravy filled the craters in the mashed potatoes, while salt and pepper rained over all. At one such meal I politely asked my brother’s girlfriend to “please piss the butter,” causing everyone but Mom and me to get up from the table, choking with laughter. Mom glowered and said nothing.

We didn’t know the word tryptophan back then, but we felt its effect as the afternoon wore on. Then in the days after Thanksgiving we’d pick away at the turkey’s carcass until there was nothing left of that poor bird but the bones and a plaintive gobble.

Half a century has passed, and now my wife and I live in New Mexico, where the official state question is “Red or green?” referring to one’s preference in chile colors. Our holidays have been drained of most of the fat except what we carry around on our persons, but otherwise we still have turkey on Turkey Day. So when my online friend Miz Highcove said, “Hey Bob, what’s a Hispanic Thanksgiving like?” I was briefly stumped because I’m not Hispanic (long story short: Papa Sanchez was from British Honduras and swore allegiance to King George).

So I delved into research for a few minutes, and it turns out that Southwest holiday fare isn’t much different from what you might expect: mix a bit of chile into the stuffing and go easy on the Pilgrim references, and you’re pretty much there. Several Web sources (and you know how authoritative they are), say that the real first Thanksgiving was celebrated near El Paso—therefore, near me—by a conquistador in 1598. Take that, Plimoth Plantation.

Of course, some original research was necessary, so we went out to eat. A Hispanic waitress told me that on Thanksgiving she likes to serve her family cornbread muffins made with chopped jalapeño, which sounds delicious to me. Finally, a Google search turned up such worthy suggestions as mixing spicy chorizo into the stuffing and combining a sweet and sour chile sauce with a cranberry base. So with a little Googling, you can easily add a Southwestern flair to your Thanksgiving meal.

Just keep an eye on the butter.

Bob Sanchez is an ex-New Englander living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he’s webmaster of The Internet Review of Books. In the past, he’s been a technical writer and a few other things he’d rather not talk about. You might find his blog interesting and his novels amusing. They are When Pigs Fly and Getting Lucky.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I enjoyed the essay. I think it's funny that you were asked about a Hispanic thanksgiving based only on your name! I love cornbread with jalapenos (I'm not Hispanic either) and eat it year round.

Fiona Robyn said...

Hello Bob – I hope you don’t mind me popping in! I’m a British author and a fellow Bookblogs member and my next novel, Thaw, will be published online next year after its physical publication. I wanted to invite you (and your readers) to participate in my Blogsplash - there’s more information at http://www.fionarobyn.com/thawblogsplash.htm. Thanks for listening!

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