Growing up in the hills of northeastern Mississippi, the best two meals of the year were the Thanksgiving feast and the Christmas dinner. My family usually held our annual Thanksgiving feast down on my elderly aunt and uncle’s farm in the lower part of the county and Thanksgiving Day was definitely a treat for the children of all the families. On the farm were chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, horses, a big barn, chicken coops, and of course the big old tin-roofed whitewashed farmhouse with a spacious verandah along the front complete with a porch swing and rocking chairs.
I remember a favorite spot for me was the old wooden smokehouse and to this day still remember the earthy hickory smell of the heavy cloth-covered hams hanging from the rafters. There was a long forgotten salt box in the corner, wooden primitive shelves filled with discarded bric-a-brac from the farm house and years worth of old Progressive Farmer magazines stacked in a corner. My elderly aunt and uncle were evidently thrifty folks who didn’t throw anything away.
The cousins, aunts and uncles would all gather at the large old tin-roofed farm house by mid morning and the house would already be pleasantly warmed by the cooking in the kitchen and the popping fire in the front parlor fireplace. The heavenly aroma already permeating from the kitchen into the front of the house was an aromatic gift for the senses.
The men and older boys would leave for the corn and cotton fields shortly after arriving at the farm for their Thanksgiving quail hunt, and the women would congregate in the kitchen busy with their culinary chores and catching up on all the family news while the younger children would play outside around the farm house.
During the afternoon, the feast usually began with the Thanksgiving prayer, and what followed was truthfully a culinary sight to behold. Most all the ingredients for the enormous feast were produced right there on the farm. We always had a big deep pan of moist chicken and cornbread dressing slowly baked forming a crispy crust in the old stove’s oven with giblet gravy waiting in a stew pot and a big baked ham that had been slow-cured in the smokehouse.
To compliment this we had home canned snap beans cooked down with fatback meat in a black iron skillet, buttery golden yellow corn, purple hull peas, and a big bowl of speckled butter beans. Also on the fare were sweet and fruity ambrosia, spiced peaches and cranberry salad. A cut glass tray of home-canned pickled beets and crispy sweet pickles would be passed around the table and a big black skillet of corn bread and large tray of yeast rolls made from scratch complimented the banquet.
And after the feast there were pies, cakes and custards on the ancient sideboard waiting to be savored. The Thanksgiving feast most always featured sweet potato pies, a fresh and moist three-layer coconut cake and if we were lucky, an amalgamation cake, all made with farm fresh eggs, milk and butter.
The week of Thanksgiving always brings back memories of the savory annual family feast on an Itawamba County farm remembered from my childhood days -a feast that was accentuated with a bountiful meal, a loving family and simply giving thanks.
Photograph: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [LC-USF34-042703-D DLC (b&w film neg.)]