Cornelia Wynne explores the cooking traditions of Americans through their distinctive foods and dishes and through their stories. These assert our defining traits of independence, resourcefulness, and a can-do spirit.
An American Thanksgiving: Don't Forget the Red Spaghetti!
When Hank and Pat Jusko sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, they have much to be thankful for. Both from hardworking farming families, they have raised their children to value family ties, the kind that brings four generations together, 25 people, to share in the festivities.
The menu is a mix of traditional foods - roast turkey with all the fixings - as well as dishes that have become a part of the Jusko family celebration, handed down from parents, aunts and uncles, and ever-refreshed from the contributions of the evolving extended family. Whatever their source, these assorted foods are cherished, giving a distinctive flavor to the Jusko's Thanksgiving, and, no doubt, to Thanksgivings across this land.
Now, for instance, although the table groans under the weight of a 25-pound turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, mashed turnip, squash, string beans, fluffy rolls, cranberry-orange relish, pickles, desserts, and every year Red Spaghetti - a tradition introduced by Hank Jusko's family - this is still the all-time favorite. What was once considered just a cheap, filling food for the poor has been elevated to star status because everyone loves it. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving for the Jusko family without it.
A little background: Hank's father came to America from Poland on a freighter, earned his daily bread as a carpenter and married. He and his wife had six children, and although there were three-four milk cows and a huge vegetable garden, the family struggled. The large dish of Red Spaghetti on the Thanksgiving table ensured that no one would go hungry on this special day. I've heard similar stories from Italian families about the large dishes of lasagna that appear on their Thanksgiving tables.
The day before, Pat makes her famous fluffy rolls (from the Duncan Hines cookbook many years ago), yams are partially cooked and peeled, pies are baked, and the cranberry relish is prepared. This is also when the tables are set up because, as Pat says, this can take a while; you always have to make sure there are enough chairs. Plates are set out, too, and the clear water glasses decorated with a gold trunk and branches that belonged to Pat's late mom. This way the family always has a little something that was a part of her on this day. One plate is set at the end of the table for the weary traveler if one should stop by. "At one time," Pat notes, "we were all here, and now when I set that plate I remember my deceased brothers and sister."
They start cooking the turkey at 5 a.m. in Pat's grandmother's thick roasting pan with a vented lid. It is basted from time to time during the day, and toward the end, with a turkey baster that sucks up the bottom juices. The cover is removed about a half hour before the turkey is done to brown it on top.
All the food is set out on the kitchen counter and on the stove, then we go to the dining room and living room, where the tables are set up, to eat. We like to say the Lord's Prayer before we start the meal, sometimes as we gather in line. Without taking too much time, one of the family will get our attention and give special mention to the smaller children, about something they have excelled in at home or in school. Several years ago, our son's daughter then seven, wanted so bad to say what she was thankful for. She was very proud to say, "Freedom." It had been talked about in school the week before.
"Thanksgiving is a wonderful day," Pat says, "and as Hank and I get older, it means more and more to us to be with family."
Here are directions for making Red Spaghetti. I guarantee you won't find this in any cookbook.
Jusko Family Red Spaghetti
1 1/2 -2 pounds spaghetti (regular, not thin)
2 cans Campbell's tomato soup
2 sticks butter
1 cup turkey drippings from the roast turkey before you take them out to make gravy
salt and pepper
Cook spaghetti. Drain. In a large pot or frying pan put tomato soup and the butter. Heat until the butter melts and stir well so it is mixed into the soup. Add turkey drippings, stirring them in well. Add the spaghetti and mix well. The spaghetti should absorb the liquid so it isn't wet or runny. Add salt and pepper to taste and more tomato soup if needed. That's all there is to it. What gives this dish its distinctive flavor is the combination of tomato soup and pan drippings. *