Here’s to Thanksgiving

Do we outdoor nuts have more traditions for Thanksgiving than sane people?

What got me thinking about this was a fellow I overheard talking to one of the food angels at Fred Meyer a couple days ago. He was apparently on a list-scripted mission from his wife, in advance of Thanksgiving. In a rich Deep South voice he was asking about “what kinda cooking ohl” he should be bringing home for the wife’s holiday creations.

Some years back, I watched one of those Deep South “Home for the Holidays” combinations of cooking and memories. It featured Annie Pots and several other well-known southern actresses and writers along with a couple Yankees. In turn, as the cooking and talk evolved, each told of the traditions – from the classic southern slow-cured and smoked ham to various game – with which he or she grew up.

Anyhow, two of the men were talking about their Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions, when the southern gentleman mentioned bobwhite quail. “We would be out with the dogs near first light working the field edges,” he drawled, “and we would shoot a dozen quail. Once they were dressed and ready, we would smother them in gravy and cook them to perfection. That was breakfast for every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning I can remember.” His Yankee friend stared at him patiently for a time, and with his clipped New England accent said, “Nahw, let me get this straight. To celebrate the holidays, you first shoot the little birds… and then you smother them?”


A couple homeys will be after pheasants on Thanksgiving morning, as they have been since boyhood. And one of them will provide Thanksgiving dinner, if he gets a couple birds. His wife, he tells me, always has a turkey in the oven, “Just in case.”

For some years, we went mom’s, in Boise. Our fare was a wild goose or a game roast, but after dad’s passing, we settled into turkey and the rest. There was still game on the table; maybe antelope, elk or deer mincemeat. And fruit, too.

For most of my life hunting has tied to the gathering of fall fruit, mostly apples and pears. When Edward, last of the Hucklings, was an early toddler, it dawned on me that we had some pretty deep-rooted traditions with that stuff, too.

In Wenatchee, my early deer hunting was done in and around the apple orchards. Apple harvest and deer harvest have long been joyfully intertwined, and there is always a familiar anticipation as I swing past an orchard fruit stand for apples or freshly‑pressed cider.

During one of my last deer and elk hunts in western Colorado, I stopped at an orchard where I had often picked up boxes of apples, and paid my annual homage. The apples came home to the basement until we were ready to use them.

Big game season rolled by. Game carcasses passed through the kitchen and into the freezer. Our young Hucklings, Tena and Anna, would proclaim each package complete and two‑year‑old Edward (“Taco Eddie” he called himself that fall) would climb to the table and exclaim, “Gotum antgope! Gotta deer! Meat, meat,” as we processed winter’s food. The rhythm of life and family seems always sweetest in the fall.

Suddenly that Thanksgiving was before us when I stumbled over the apples in the basement. The evening before the big day, we dug out the paring knives and set about making our famous unsweetened chunky applesauce.

I was filling a couple large kettles with apple chunks, as their mom rounded the kids up for bed. “Abbosauch?” Taco Eddie asked, hands full of apple pieces. “Yup,” said Tena, “they’re going to put it in jars for us to eat for breakfast and stuff. It’s going to be a good winter!”

No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without applesauce. Each spoonful holds the fresh, crisp taste of fall, the smell of just-picked apple orchards, and the joy of the hunt.

Over our last Thanksgiving together here, Edward and I talked about our hunts and time afield as we ground game meat for sausage and burger. We laughed about how his Boise grandma and granddad loved their game meat and always turned the processing of meat (“real responsibility and real sacred food”) into a celebration. As the grinder cranked along, we toasted the season; To food made medicine with gratitude and prayer, and to our good health from joyfully consuming the gifts of the earth.

At some point, Edward looked up from the filling bowl of ground meat. “We always have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we?”

May your holiday traditions remind you of all our outdoor gifts here in Paradise. (And somewhere in there, you might say a prayer for those across the world who can’t even think about such things today.) Be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it this way: “Thanks’giv’ing. 1. A formal public expression of thanks to God. 2. An annual U.S. holiday.”

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized