Thanksgiving in the South Part III

Below is me detailing my recent trip to Mobile, Alabama.

Conversation for Thanksgiving prep started on Saturday. Ms. Ella says Monday is the day to start. She wants to get the pies and cakes out the way. Sweet potato pies and pecan pies. She makes a mental note that she has one son in particular that likes, no loves apple pie. He will ensure everyone has had a piece and take the rest home. If anyone hasn’t gotten a piece than too bad!

I enter the kitchen and I see the pecans in a bowl. “Prep for the pecan pie??” I ask Doug. He lets me know that Ms. Ella purchased the pecans pre-cracked, this is to remove the bitterness. She’s now letting them dry out for a few days prior to roasting.

The Kitcheniesta informs her followers that if your turkey is currently frozen as of Saturday, it should be removed for a proper thaw. I confirmed this with Doug, and he agrees, that if you want to season your turkey with brine etc this is definitely necessary.

In the midst of this conversation we conjure up what we’re having for lunch. Foosackly’s or should Doug thaw out chicken to fry? I spent $20 USD on food alone yesterday so I wasn’t particularly inclined to buy food again on only day one here in Mobile. So Doug thaws the chicken and fries it. I’m bout to have southern fried chicken. Yes. String beans or corn? Doug asks, I’m not sure what this is for so I just say corn. Ms. Ella reminds Doug to not forget the love – the butter and sugar. Whatever it is, I can’t wait until lunch.

Back to Thanksgiving, so we’re having two turkeys. Yes two! One fried and one smoked. Welcome to Thanksgiving in the South.

On Sunday, Ms. Ella and her youngest son (Doug) argue over whether ribs is on the menu for Thursday. Ms. Ella with the quickness informs Doug: “ohh noo, we having fried turkey, a smoked turkey, sausages and fried chicken. Won’t be no ribs.” She complains of people helping themselves to all five meat portions until their plates are filled to the brim. During this conversation we can hear the high school alumni carrying on up the street. This week is alumni week for Mobile. Doug’s dad went to an alumni party the night earlier, he’s in his 70s.

Back to Thursday’s dinner – don’t forget about the greens. Collard greens to be exact. Cleaning them and cooking them, Ms. Ella is keen on doing her greens and no one else’s. I love collard greens because they remind me of callalloo, a similar green cooked in the West Indies.

On Monday evening Doug’s brother Wayne confirms that Thanksgiving dinner will start at 12:30. He alluded that we’ll all be full from picking at the food prior to. I can’t admit that he’s wrong.

After going to the Oakleigh Complex and purchasing my must have Foosackly’s, Nakita, Doug, CJ and I return home to find Ms. Ella prepping her sweet potatoes for the candied yams. She had already peeled the sweet potatoes and was slicing them. She soaked them in a bowl of water prior to boiling. I realized that Southerners, or Americans in general refer to sweet potatoes as yams, I don’t because in the West Indies, there’s another starch vegetable that is less sweet that we refer to as yam.

Sweet potatoes soaking prior to boiling for candied yams.

Later that evening I smelt the sweet smell of sweet potatoes and nutmeg… Ms. Ella had her pot of Heaven boiling and offered Nakita and I to try some, yes please!

Tuesday morning, I make my way to the kitchen with CJ for his morning cereal. To my surprise (and happiness) Ms. Ella had THREE sweet potato pies in the oven baking. “Getting a head start on your pies?” I ask Ms. Ella, “Oh yes m’am, you know it.” She answered.

By Tuesday evening Ms. Ella had the sweet potato pies done but was unsatisfied with the smoothness of her pies due to a bad batch of sweet potatoes. Nevertheless, they tasted delicious. I had piece for snack and for breakfast Wednesday morning.

Doug’s older brother Kevin finished making the ham and Ms. Ella prepared her chicken stalk for her famous dressing (which I love). The broth consisted of chicken quarters which she wanted boiled until the meat was falling off the bone. She then begins cutting up her celery and onions, the cornbread had already finished baking.

Cornbread for dressing, no sugar added.

Cornbread, celery, friend onions and chicken broth with a cream of chicken soup all mixed together. This sounds simple but I know there’s a secret touch that Ms. Ella has to this dressing recipe.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, yes there’s lots of cooking but none of it can be touched until tomorrow. So what to eat? After having sweet potato pie for breakfast, my mind is set on Rodgers. Arguably the best barbecue in Mobile.

I got 6 wings with 2 sides: potato salad + peach cobbler. I forgot it also comes with 3 slices of bread.

Nakita wanted Foosackly’s and Ms. Ella and Doug wanted seafood from Love’s. Doug made a stop at all 3 restaurants. While in Rodger’s Doug changes his mind about getting Love’s and succumbs to the smoke barbecue smell inside Rodger’s – a Mobile legend.

Thursday finally came and we wait patiently. Wayne begins frying his turkey in the yard outside and it smells delicious. He brings 3 sweet potato pies with him as well.

A little piece of heaven.

At 1:14pm we had just about had it with the waiting. Unfortunately the power went out while Wayne was frying the turkey and this delayed the eating. Thankfully Doug’s father, Mr. James came to say grace at about 1:45 and Ms. Ella wanted everyone to say what they’re thankful for. The consensus was family, life and God.

My plate looked like:

Dressing, Mac n cheese, fried turkey, cranberry sauce, collard greens, candied yams, cornbread and fried chicken.

Whew. Welcome to Thanksgiving in the South.

Thanksgiving in the South Part II

Below is a recollection of my first experience of Thanksgiving in the South from 2 years ago.

I arrived to Mobile Regional Airport on the Wednesday evening. I had taken a connecting flight from Toronto to Chicago. It was late, after 11pm and I was waiting for my sister to arrive. She’s actually my best friend but we consider one another sisters.

She arrives and Doug (her now husband) arrives and picks us up. “Babe, did you get it?” Doug chuckled, “Nah babe I didn’t.” “But whyyyy?” Nakita asks. Doug chuckled again and handed Nakita a bag, it smelt like fried goods. “Vee, you’re going to love this.” She takes out a foam container and hands me the rest in the back. Whatever it was, it smelt delicious honestly. “Is this…?” I start asking if this is the famous food Nakita is always raving about upon her return from Mobile, I couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant. “Foosacklys? Yes!” Nakita answers.

Foosackly’s. A chain restaurant in Coastal Alabama and Northwest Florida. There’s no way to really describe Foosackly’s other than simply delicious – the best chicken tenders you will ever have, ever and a dipping sauce out of this world. So basically, in a typical order you get chicken tenders, crinkle cut fries (fried perfectly, nice and crispy) and a slice of buttered toast, sourdough toast, but not truly, a more milder taste. Me being from Canada (and one that tries to watch my waistline but always fails) was not used to all these carbs on one plate but did I love it? Yes! It was soo good. The dipping sauce – foo sauce, I asked Doug what flavors I should use to describe this sauce, he says it would be an insult to describe it in just flavors as opposed to how it plays a part in elevating the most basic of dishes – fried chicken strips, fries and the toast (DUH!!)

This picture doesn’t really it do it justice but you get the drift.

This is just night one in the South, the next day was Thanksgiving. I think this was my first time experiencing the American Thanksgiving. But to be in the South, with all the flavor and home cooking?! I was overjoyed, and my in laws did not disappoint!

We tried not to spoil our appetite on Thanksgiving, I believe we started at around 2 pm. Doug’s mother is Ms. Ella. She is the head chef in this Mobile home, and she really puts her heart in her cooking! I don’t eat pork so unfortunately there were some items I did not partake in. But, my first go round consisted of: dressing, macaroni + cheese, turkey, collard greens, and candied yams. Whew!

What I noticed in the South (or is this an American cuisine thing?) was, that a lot of things were made from scratch. For example, in Canada, many don’t follow traditional ‘North American’ style dinners for Holidays due to the fact that many of us (like myself) are from immigrant families. For example, my family is from Jamaica, we don’t even have a holiday for Thanksgiving. It would be out of the ordinary for us to cook a turkey. However, for special occasions, or a simple Sunday dinner, we will cook oxtail with rice + peas or curry goat.

So when my family celebrates Thanksgiving in Canada (or the US) these are the items we cook, and if we do cook a turkey, the dressing (we call it stuffing) will be from a box. I don’t want to generalize and say everyone does this, but if I cook oxtail (which takes forever) and a turkey, lasagna, macaroni salad, salmon etc., I’m not making dressing from scratch! That is coming from the box!

So, as I was saying, during my time in Mobile, at Thanksgiving dinner, I did notice a lot of items were handmade. So my plate consisted of Ms. Ella’s dressing. I fell in love with it. In fact I had a 2nd and 3rd helping of this dressing, I ate it the next day and the day after that! I loved Ms. Ella’s dressing! The turkey was juicy and delicious, with a side of cranberry of course. And the macaroni + cheese, perfection! This is something I have yet to master myself but honestly, the ratio of cheese to macaroni was spot on.

The candied yams. I believe Doug made those. Who thought of adding brown sugar and cinnamon to sweet potatoes? Genius. Melt in your mouth delicious! And I decided to balance this hearty meal with some greens of course! Collard greens, just simply delicious, cooked to perfection, not over cooked but a perfect side to your Thanksgiving meal. I had a roll as well, I fell in love with this also (I have a love hate relationship with bread). The roll was just buttery, melt in your mouth, soft, just perfectly good.

Ready for dessert? Home made pecan and sweet potato pie? Stay tuned for my Thanksgiving in the South Part III, where I recant my experience of this year’s Thanksgiving in Mobile, AL.

Thanksgiving in the South Part I

Two years ago I followed my best friend to Mobile, Alabama as she visited her then boyfriend Doug for the American Thanksgiving. I captured my experience Thanksgiving in the South Part II. But first, my now brother Doug, wrote a pretty profound piece on his view of Thanksgiving in the South. Doug is an upcoming rapper, you can listen to his music here. Doug is also part of a music collective, the newest release of music is by singer/songwriter Indyah Rashaud. You can listen to her latest single Multitude here.

The following was written by Douglas James:

The Thanksgiving tradition in the South is truly a family affair. There are regional, local, and family traditions all over the South specifically that make this one of the most interesting celebrations of the year… also, it can be a chore. I can only speak for my mom, “Mom-uh”, Mrs. Ella James. She was the granddaughter of a freed Slave, and that brings a certain wisdom when it comes to collecting, preparing, and serving Thanksgiving without it being an overwhelming path.

By October, she already has non perishables such as any dried beans she will prepare, macaroni for her legendary oven baked mac-n-cheese, any ham, or turkey she will be preparing she will have bought it before the month of November. She also ensures sugar for her pies, cakes, etc will be in the pantry in addition to stocking up on butter. Anything that can be caught on sale and stored via pantry or freezer (without degradation to quality) she normally has at least 2 weeks in advance.

About 2 weeks before Thanksgiving is when she gets her greens. Normally collards, with a small batch of turnips just for me… she picks them (when you remove the excess stem), washes them, cuts them, then washes them again. Greens are from the earth, sits just a few inches off the ground are gritty like your car after a beach day. Seems like a really easy process just reading this, but it’s not. A 40 gallon trash-bag filled with collards cooks down just enough to feed her 8 kids, the grandkids, the great grands, the cousins, the friends, and visitors who always make their way to our house.

Let’s say she buys the greens today, she will pick them tomorrow and wash them, cut them the day after that and wash them again. She finally cooks them down, bag them up, and throws them in the freezer.

The night before Thanksgiving, any meat will be cooking. We prefer smoked turkeys, because Alabama and BBQ are a thing. Even if you buy your turkey smoked, you can definitely just slide it in the oven beside the ham to just slowly cook and roast in those flavors. candied yams are a day or 2 before. Come to think of it the only things we cook on the day of thanksgiving is rice, gravy, macaroni and cheese, and we always fry some chicken for the picky kids, who ate too many sweets early in the day. My mom says a hungry child will always cause problems…

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving in the South Part II.