26. November 2015 · Comments Off on A Reminiscence: Thanksgiving in the Barracks,1978 · Categories: Domestic

(A re-run from my original military blog, and I thought I had included this in Air Force Daze, but it seems I put it in my first book, Our Grandpa Was an Alien, without the stuffing recipe.)

The women-only barracks was the only one that contained a working kitchen. Once upon a time, all the female troops were assigned to a WAF squadron, and lived in the WAF barracks. The WAF separate command was long gone by my first year in Japan, but all the females, no matter if they were assigned to the hospital, CE (Civil Engineering), SPS (Security Police Squadron), CBPO (Consolidated Base Personnel Office) , the Hill (Shussh! You can’t talk about The Hill!!!) – we all lived in the one building. This had several advantages, notably in the efficient base-wide transmission of gossip, and in letting us scamper between our rooms and the gang latrines dressed in little more than a towel or underwear, but possession of a kitchen was most highly prized.

Besides that, the dining hall was a good bit away, and the aesthetics of the Japanese cooks led them to unsettling practices like adorning the meatloaf with maraschino cherries. God knows, it might be rather attractive in theory, but it was still very disconcerting to be eating your meatloaf and two veg and discovering the maraschinos. Eventually, a group of us began taking turns fixing something on a Sunday afternoon, and sharing it out with anyone without dinner plans: “Just bring your plate and a fork, and a chair down to the common room” we said. A girl from Georgia fixed real Southern fried chicken one week, the next weekend the resident vegetarian baked a vat of eggplant parmigana. So when fall came around, and Thanksgiving drew closer, it seemed only logical to do our own Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the traditional dishes are fairly simple, after all. We took up a fund for groceries, did a headcount of who wouldn’t be going to their supervisors’ houses and immediately hit a snag:

“Who’s going to do the turkey?” was the main question, followed by “Well, who helped enough at home to stuff and bake a 20lb turkey without giving anyone food poisoning?” (This has always been stressed on the AFRTS spots at that time of year.)

I had helped Mom and Granny Jessie with the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys since… well, I was unwary enough to admit it. Before I could come up with a plausible way to wiggle out, I was rushing to the commissary with a pocket full of crumpled notes and change on the Wednesday afternoon, with just fifteen minutes before I had to be up the hill and on-shift at the TV station.

Turkey, 20+ pounds, frozen solid: OK, I would leave it to defrost outside in my car during the shift; Northern Japan in November was slightly chillier than the inside of most refrigerators anyway. Onionscelerysagesausage…bread. Mom always bought a loaf of bakery wheat bread, tore each slice into clunks and dried them on a sheet-cake pan in the closet where the hot water heater lived. I zigged down the bakery aisle, threw a loaf into the basket and headed for the quick-checkout register, making it to work with about a half-minute to spare.

Didn’t even notice until I got back to the barracks that night, and took out the bread that I had a loaf of rye. Damn and blast! There was no way to get a loaf of wheat bread, no way at all. What the hell— I tore up the rye loaf, reasoning that with all the other stuff and a ladle of gravy on top, who the heck would ever notice a few caraway seeds or not.
It worked— made the best bread stuffing ever! I’ve done it with rye bread ever since. (Unless I do the Rock Cornish hen with wild rice stuffing instead) So without further ado:

Sgt. Mom’s Rye Stuffing

Tear apart or cut into cubes one loaf rye bread. Dry until crisp in a warm area, or an oven set to the lowest temperature available.
Heat to simmering 2-4 cups unsalted vegetable or chicken broth.
Rinse inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels one turkey. Remove the bag with giblets and set aside. Do not forget these; you will use them for the gravy base.
In a large frying pan, brown 1/2 to 1 lb bulk sausage. When done, drain off fat, and set sausage to drain on paper towels. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup butter to frying pan, and sauté until translucent:
1 onion, chopped finely
2-3 stalks celery, sliced finely
Handful of celery leaves, also chopped
2 to 4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
Sage to taste, either fresh and sliced, or dried and crumbled
Pepper to taste
8-ox box of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Empty the dried bread into the largest bowl you have, add the cooked sausage, the sautéed vegetables, and moisten with the broth. You can add chopped cooked chestnuts at this point. The stuffing should not be soggy. Stuff the turkey according to custom. Whatever stuffing does not fit in the bird can be baked in a covered casserole for the last hour or so. Generally its 15-20 minutes per pound for a smaller bird, 13-15 minutes per pound for larger, or so sayeth “Joy Of Cooking”.
While the bird bakes, take the giblets and the neck and simmer them in a heavy saucepan in the leftover broth and enough water to make about 3 cups of liquid. Finely chop the giblets and neck meat when thoroughly cooked, and mix a little water with flour to thicken it all, and there’s your gravy.
With luck, there will be no leftovers.

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