Different Drum: Reasons why cooking show’s not in the cards

A relative who was hosting a large Thanksgiving gathering messaged me about how to make giblet gravy. I happily informed her. Gravy-making is a little-known ability I possess. Although I’ve never volunteered it during a job interview when asked if I possess special skills, it’s nevertheless a minor super power that comes in handy, especially in conjunction with Thanksgiving dinner.

I empathize with those who don’t make gravy regularly and find themselves in a quandary at holiday meal time. But it’s an age old problem. Husband and wife historians Larry and Priscilla Massey, whom I’ve met, addressed common gravy concerns in their 1990 book, "Walnut Pickles and Watermelon Cake: A Century of Michigan Cooking," quoting an excerpt from an 1890 Detroit cookbook, which asks:

Kristy Smith
Kristy Smith

“Is any one perplexed by gravy? Will the grease rise to the top, and the thickening fall to the bottom? Is good gravy on your table an accident rather than a result of thought and painstaking?”

I kept that state of mind in mind, when reassuringly issuing my realistic instructions for giblet gravy-making:

“In a saucepan, boil for 20 minutes in two cups of water and a teaspoon of chicken soup base the giblets (all the creepy little organs except the neck from inside the bag inside of the turkey). Once boiled, food-process the giblets until paste-like.

“Put the paste back into the small, giblet-boiling pan and add a couple of cups of the clear gravy you’ve already made using roaster drippings, chicken soup base and cornstarch. Slowly bring mixture to a boil. The giblet paste will slightly thicken the gravy and turn it cloudy. Reduce the heat to simmer. Strain the larger giblet particles from the gravy so they won’t gross out your dinner guests. If you want more giblet gravy, you can add to your mixture more of the original, clear gravy you made from the turkey drippings.

“Oh, and please note that instead of boiling the giblets, you can always leave them in the bag inside the turkey while you cook it. I call that method the “Oh crap, I forgot to remove them again before cooking the turkey” strategy. It’s a very common approach. Unfortunately, that seemingly time-saving tactic ends up causing you to fart around and turn the giblets into paste last-minute, as guests are arriving and you are trying to cut up the turkey, etc.

“And here’s an unrelated Thanksgiving preparation hint: I cook my Thanksgiving turkey and make the gravy the night before. While the turkey’s in the oven, I drink wine while peeling the potatoes. That way the next day I only need to cook and mash potatoes and reheat the gravy mess. It's a good system (especially the wine part). To make my house smell all Thanksgivingsy, I wait and cook some old-style sage stuffing on actual Thanksgiving Day, drizzling it with turkey gravy before baking it. File away that trick, too!”

I compare my Thanksgiving dinner life hacks to those found in 1964’s "The American Heritage Cookbook," edited by Helen McCully, which features historically interesting American recipes and 30 menus connected to notable historic figures, venues and occasions. It gives giblet gravy-making-wannabes too complicated advice:

“Cover the giblets and the neck with water and dry white wine (2 parts of water to 1 of wine). Add a teaspoon of salt, 3 or 4 peppercorns, a sprig of parsley, 1 onion stuck with 2 cloves and 1 carrot. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Skim, cover the pan, and lower the heat. Cook gently for 1 hour. Strain the broth, cook it down to 1 cup and season it to taste.”

Onions stuck with cloves?! Holy crap! That’s a lot of extra ingredients to make a little gravy. Seems like a lot of expense and extra work, too. Granted, it sounds more professional than my gravy-making, where I describe some ingredients I’m using as “creepy,” season my instructions with inappropriate language (“fart around”) and made-up words (“Thanksgivingsy”). And clearly, my recommendation for drinking while wielding a sharp knife disqualifies me as cooking show material; however, I can darned near in my sleep covert clear pan-drippings into delicious giblet gravy. Surely that counts for something.

Kristy Smith’s Different Drum humor columns are archived at her blog: diffdrum.wordpress.com.

This article originally appeared on Sturgis Journal: Different Drum: Reasons why cooking show’s not in the cards