By Pat Nelson, November 28, 2007
Reprinted with permission, South County News/Daily News, Longview, WAWhen I was growing up, my mother would get up Thanksgiving morning around 5 a.m.to “put the bird in the oven.” She had worked hard the day before making pies and preparing side dishes. In those days, you made your own pies and lots of them. I can remember the sound of the rolling pin as it rolled across the dough, and flour flying for hours as Mom rolled out the perfect rounds that would become flaky pie shells. She always rolled out and baked the scraps of dough, too, and put jam on them for me as a treat.By the time I would get up on Thanksgiving morning, the turkey would be cooking, and Mom, tired from preparations the day before and from getting up early, would be elbow deep in soapsuds, washing the mountain of dishes she had created while cooking. That, of course, was before dishwashers were a standard item in homes. At our house, Mom was the dishwasher, and I was the reluctant assistant when I couldn’t find a way to get out of it.We’d go to church Thanksgiving morning, and then hurry home to finish preparing the meal. My aunt Agnes always brought stacks of lefse, the thin Norwegian bread made from mashed potatoes, butter and cream. Lefse looks something like tortillas, but thinner. In our family, we always butter our lefse and roll it like crepes, but some people prefer to eat it with cinnamon and sugar.We always ate Thanksgiving dinner early in the day, and I can remember my brother eating several helpings before falling asleep on the couch. There was always too much food, and it was hard to make room in the refrigerator for all the leftovers, even after sending food home with guests.Occasionally we would go to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad had low blood sugar and required frequent meals. He learned quickly that if we went to one particular home for dinner, he had to eat first and bring snacks, because the meal was always served several hours late.When I decided to cook my first Thanksgiving dinner, I talked my mother-in-law into coming to my house at 5 a.m.to help me. There we were, her with sleepy eyes and me in my robe, slipping my first turkey into the oven. I was shocked at how easy it was. Once in the oven, there was plenty of time to get the rest of the meal ready. The only bad parts were getting up out of a warm bed to handle a cold bird and trying to ignore the butterflies in my stomach because I was afraid to make gravy.It was important to me that my dinner be served on time. It would have been, but one guest arrived thirty minutes late — with her sweet potatoes still in the can and the marshmallows still in the bag; the dish still had to be cooked. I was devastated. I was also tired from getting up so early.That was the only time I got up early to cook a turkey. Now, my first rule is that dinner will be served at 4 p.m. so I won’t have to get up early. Even with a 20-pound turkey, I never have to have it in the oven before 9 a.m.My second rule is that the meal be served on time; if someone is late, we eat without them.It isn’t Thanksgiving without lefse, so after my dear Aunt Agnes passed away, I learned to make it myself. It was time-consuming and I was a messy cook, with more flour on the kitchen surfaces than the pie-making ever caused. I suddenly felt guilty about the stacks of lefse I had consumed every holiday season when Agnes was alive. I had never given a thought to the time and effort it took for her to supply all of us with our favorite treat.Eventually, I learned that members of the Sons of Norway in Kelso sell lefse once each November at their holiday bazaar. The date is on my calendar, and I show up there every year for 10 packs of perfect lefse.Now, holiday dinners are no longer stressful. I get up at 8 a.m. and have the turkey in the oven by 9 a.m. I use Pillsbury pie crusts that are ready to roll out into my pans, allowing me to bake homemade pies with perfect crust and little mess.I keep the menu simple: my daughter-in-law brings the mashed potatoes; my daughter brings the green-bean casserole. I open a can of cranberries, put a few pickles and olives on a plate, and make the gravy while the turkey is cooling.I haven’t been nervous about the gravy since I learned to cheat. I cook the giblets and save the broth to add to the turkey drippings. Then, I add packaged turkey gravy mix. Along with the drippings and the broth, I make perfect gravy every time.This Thanksgiving, Woodland sparkled in the sunshine as my family arrived. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, and Horseshoe Lake looked like a mirror, reflecting the autumn leaves of the trees on shore. We shot baskets in the driveway, rode bikes and ate on time.