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Archive for Wednesday, November 26, 1997

HASHING OUT HOLIDAY ISSUES

November 26, 1997

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It's hard not to be saddened by the erosion of Thanksgiving that has occurred over the past several decades.

I began thinking in earnest about how the flavor of the holiday has changed after I saw a poster at a supermarket deli counter soliciting orders for a complete Thanksgiving dinner. If you had already placed your order, you could be picking up the turkey and trimmings on the way home from work tonight and reheating them in your microwave tomorrow.

Voila! Instant Thanksgiving! Somehow this vision of the Thanksgiving meal does not comport with the Norman Rockwell ideal.

My first reaction was meddling concern. I wanted to warn anyone who might consider ordering one of these Thanksgiving dinner kits about the consequences for the American psyche.

What about tradition and ritual? What about all the little children who will never get to experience a REAL Thanksgiving?

I've had a few days to ponder this, and although I haven't entirely abandoned my dismay at knowing that takeout turkey may be gaining a foothold in American dining rooms, I have become willing to concede that a certain practical necessity may be at work here.

In many families Thanksgiving has devolved from a full-blown holiday, which commonly extended through the weekend and often involved travel and time with the extended family. Nowadays, in many households Thanksgiving is little more than a day off from work.

And not a relaxing one at that. On this one-day reprieve from the workplace, the family cook must prepare the largest meal of the year, usually after staying up late the night before to bake pies and simmer cranberries.

Then it's up before dawn on Thanksgiving Day to dress the turkey and heave it into the oven.

By the time the meal is eaten and the table is cleared, the cook is spent and must face the dismal fact that the house is a mess and that Friday is a work day.

The leisurely Thanksgiving holiday has fallen victim to changes in our social structure and our economy. Not only do both adults in most households now work but they're most likely to have jobs in the service and retail industries, which means Friday is no holiday.

The foremothers who set the standard for the Thanksgiving feast didn't face the demands that are imposed on women today. While the notion of the vast Thanksgiving meal -- shared with parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles -- is warm and quaint, for most families it no longer exists.

Plenty of people who grew up celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving still try to recreate it every year and exhaust themselves in the process. Even when they succeed in putting on the show, I wonder how many can take the time to savor the results.

Looked at in this light, ordering a takeout turkey from the supermarket deli may be an affirmation of sanity rather than the denigration of a hallowed American tradition.

Whether your turkey is cooked in your own oven or the grocer's, you're likely to have leftovers. Although turkey sandwiches are probably the most efficient way to dispose of the uneaten bird, I am reminded, as I reflect on the Thanksgivings of my childhood, of eating good old turkey hash at breakfast during the post-Thanksgiving weekend.

I borrowed this recipe, which can use leftover broth from boiling the neck and giblets, from Craig Claiborne's "The New York Times Cookbook."

Turkey Hash

3 cups ground cooked turkey

3 cups finely chopped, cooked potatoes

3 tablespoons chopped green pepper

Plenty of people who grew up celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving still try to recreate it every year and exhaust themselves in the process. Even when they succeed in putting on the show, I wonder how many can take the time to savor the results.

Looked at in this light, ordering a takeout turkey from the supermarket deli may be an affirmation of sanirge casserole or about 40 minutes for individual casseroles. Halfway through the baking, remove cover to permit browning.

Arrange poached eggs on top of the hash and serve with Tabasco sauce. Makes four servings.

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