By Stacey Patton Wallace
Thanksgiving 1963 to Thanksgiving 1984 were the best ones of my life. Why? Because from the ages of almost one to almost 22, I didn’t have to cook ANYTHING for the holiday. All I had to do was show up at the table with a fork in my hand. My sweet Mama, Barbara Patton (again, not the former mayor of Opelika), cooked every marvelous bite; well, my grandmothers helped, too. My Daddy was the head dishwasher. The youngest child in the family is, of course, the most important one and is usually spoiled; I enjoyed every minute of it.
However, all good things must come to an end. As I grew older, I helped Mama and Daddy with simple tasks such as drying dishes, getting ingredients out of the cabinet or refrigerator, etc.
Later I began helping Mama with simple food preparations. Then I graduated to cooking a dish under Mama’s supervision. One of the first things I cooked was a pecan pie. In the Patton family, pecan pies are for Thanksgiving, and blueberry pie and red velvet cake are for Christmas.
When we lost my Daddy to Alzheimer’s in April 2018, Mike and I began to host Thanksgiving at our home in Auburn. I was glad to host Thanksgiving instead of Christmas, which my much older brother Jim and my sister-in-law Rita have at their home in Sylacauga.
Now, Christmas is my favorite holiday and to me, the most important because we celebrate Jesus’s birth. However, Thanksgiving is a laid-back holiday. Mike and I watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, prepare a delicious supper for a maximum of nine people and enjoy chatting with them. Christmas, however, is a much bigger holiday with more people, pressure and higher expectations. This is not what God intended Christmas to be; people just managed to make it this way.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t like to cook; I only like to eat. And although I can cook, mishaps often occur when I do. For example, the first year we hosted Thanksgiving, I made the cornbread the day before because Mama told me that day-old cornbread is better for dressing. As Southerners, we make our dressing in a pan OUTSIDE the turkey, and I’m very grateful. Our Northern brothers and sisters make stuffing, and I’m sure you know where that goes. No, thank you.
Since I only had Mama’s medium, cast iron skillet, I had to make two pones of cornbread. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that iron keeps its heat for a VERY LONG TIME. When I grabbed the skillet with my bare hand to make the second pone, I yelped and quickly let go of it. Those blisters taught me from then on to use those oven mitts.
A second mishap occurred on that first Thanksgiving we hosted; it involved a chicken or “fryer,” as Mama called it. Mama told me to get a 2 and-a-half to 3-pound chicken. Mama used to cook a chicken in a pressure cooker; the broth went in her amazing dressing, the best I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Well, Mike and I made the mistake of waiting too late to get said chicken. The only ones available in our grocery store were 5 to 6 lbs. We purchased one, and it was too big for my biggest boiler, so water kept boiling over onto my stove. You see, I refuse to use a pressure cooker like my Mama and my grandmothers did; the jiggling contraptions scare me because I’m afraid they’ll explode. In fact, once, many years ago, when I came home to Alexander City (“Eleck” City to the locals), for Thanksgiving, Mama was wiping off the hood of the stove. A ring from her pressure cooker had cracked, sending chicken broth everywhere. I rest my case.
Back to the oversized chicken. While Mike kept an eye on our big bird, I went to pick up Mama for Thanksgiving. I told her about our bird. When we came into my kitchen, I asked her if we had cooked it long enough; it had been boiling for 3 to 4 hours. Mama took one look and matter of factly said, “Turn off the stove.” Apparently, it doesn’t take that long to cook a large chicken.
Although Mama’s dressing is my favorite Thanksgiving dish, it has about 100 steps involved, so I don’t relish making it. Mama supervises me and even insists on stringing the celery before she chops it; I gladly let her. I once told Mama, “I sure miss the days when you cooked everything.” Mama smiled sweetly and said, “I don’t.” However, my sister-in-law Rita brings dishes, too, so that really makes it easier.
Now, if you find making dressing as tedious as I do, you should try Veggies To Go at 815 E. Glenn Avenue in Auburn. Mike and I recently ordered curbside at Veggies. Mike chose the chicken and dressing, sweet potato soufflé and fried green tomatoes. I ordered the chicken and dressing, squash casserole and okra and tomatoes. Everything was delicious, especially the chicken and dressing. Also, you can order pans of dressing for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Veggies To Go has daily specials, which include: Monday: chicken fajitas and peach cobbler; Tuesday: hamburger steak and peach cobbler; Wednesday: chicken and dressing and strawberry cobbler; Thursday: fried chicken breast and strawberry cobbler; Friday: pot roast and blackberry cobbler; Saturday: chicken quesadilla and blackberry cobbler.
Besides its daily specials, Veggies To Go offers diners: fried or grilled pork chops, fried or grilled chicken fingers, meatloaf, country fried steak, fried catfish, baked chicken breast, grilled tilapia and a huge selection of vegetables. Also, people who are 55 and up get a free sweet tea; I certainly appreciate that.
If you love Southern cooking, as I do, run and do not walk to Veggies To Go on Glenn Avenue in Auburn.
Veggies To Go is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. I hope all of you have a safe, Happy Thanksgiving. Mama, this one was for you. As my friend Dottie says, I love you to the moon and back!
Veggies To Go makes the grade with an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!
Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear each week in the Observer. Stacey may be reached at email@example.com