The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Nov. 28, 1985.)

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it isn't commercial. We don't give presents to each other on Thanksgiving, and even Hallmark hasn't had much success getting us to send each other cards saying, "Happy Thanksgiving."

Thanksgiving is uniquely American holiday, but it could use a little focus. We ought to do things that would remind us of the virtues we admire in the Pilgrim Fathers, not to mention, of course, the Pilgrim Mothers. The centerpiece of most Thanksgivings is the feast, so that would be the place to express these all-American attributes and return to basic ways of doing things.

I propose that we go back to preparing the meal and cooking it the old-fashioned way. I propose, for this one day, that we abandon all mixes, all frozen food, all canned food, and anything prepared for us in advance by a big food company. We'd keep in mind that there were no supermarkets in Plymouth in 1621.

Here's how it would go if we were all to honor the Pilgrim Fathers with a real, homemade Thanksgiving dinner:

There'd be no frozen turkey.

Frozen turkeys aren't bad. They just aren't as good as fresh-killed turkeys, and the turkey people ought to be made more aware that we know the difference. (I'm not too keen on the term "fresh- killed"; I don't like to be reminded.)

Frozen birds are pumped up trust and wrapped in plastic that shrinks tight around them. They look great in the supermarket case, but they look better than they taste.

Some of them say "pre-basted." That means they've been injected with vegetable oil.

Don't buy stuffing.

Don't even buy the bread you put in the stuffing. Make a few loaves of bread. Cut one of them up, let the bread get stale and use that in the stuffing. You can put almost anything good in stuffing and the stuffing will be good. I put eggs, butter, and usually leftover sausage from Thanksgiving breakfast in it. Moisten it with orange juice.

Make your own cranberry sauce and cranberry jelly.

The big difference is you strain one and don't strain the other. You can put other stuff like almonds in cranberry sauce, too, but the jelly should be a beautiful, crystal-clear red.

Don't put anything fake in the gravy.

When the bird is cooked, take it out of the pan, pour off most of fat and then scrape the dark brown goo off the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Make a roux of a few tablespoons of flour with some of the fat and then mix the whole mess together with water. The best place to do that is in a blender. After it's mixed, bring it to a boil in a pan until it thickens a little.

Don't be caught using anything for mashed potatoes except potatoes you've peeled and cooked yourself.

Mash them with warm milk and butter. Thanksgiving dinner takes a lot of butter. This isn't a diet I'm prescribing.

If you had a garden, you should have been able to save a few of your own squash from late fall.

The Pilgrim Fathers would appreciate your having grown your own vegetables.

Make a pumpkin pie.

Don't buy can of pumpkin, even though the other ingredients you put in are probably more important than the pumpkin in pumpkin pie. Don't buy a frozen pie crust, either. Pie crust is messy but satisfying to make. If it isn't messy and hard to roll, it probably isn't any good.

If you plan to have ice cream, make it.

Get an electric freezer and make the ice cream out of cream, sugar and vanilla or some other flavoring, nothing else.

If you've gone this far getting together an all-homemade Thanksgiving dinner, you might as well go all the way and grind your own coffee beans. You can do it in an ordinary blender.

After Thanksgiving dinner, put the dishes in the dishwasher. The Pilgrim Fathers will forgive you that.

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