Retro Green Beans

Did you know Thanksgiving is in just a couple of days?  While shopping, I am always amazed at the huge stacks of green beans and mushroom soup and of course fried onions.  Did you ever wonder what people ate for Thanksgiving before this dish showed up? Read on for I one clue.

I’m here to tell you, I hate this “classic” green bean dish. I guess “hate” is a strong word. It’s not that it is bad, it’s just that it could be so much better.  How do I know?  When I got married, my darling bride turned me on to the dish her mother made at Thanksgiving for years and years.  After I started collecting cookbooks, I started looking for it. Yes, it exists.  I found it in two (I have thousands of cookbooks). One was a Gladys Tabor cookbook from the 40s.  If Gladys was alive today I have no doubt she’d be on The Food Network.  I also found it in a 1960s church cookbook.  So my hat is off to my wife’s late mom, Martha Cook.  Wherever she got this recipe, she cooked it every year and when I got married, she saved me from “other” casserole.  It is THE standard recipe at our house.

It looks harder than it is. I’m all about easy at Thanksgiving, and this is a type of homemade dish that is still easy.

Swiss Style Green Beans

2 Tablespoons Flour
2 Tablespoons grated onion
7 Tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
16 ounces sour cream
8 ounces grated Swiss cheese
4 – 5 Cans French Style Green Beans, drained well
1/2 cup crushed corn flakes

Lightly saute the onions in 4 Tablespoons of the butter and stir in the flour; stir until it is smooth.  Add sugar, salt, and white pepper; blend well.  Slowly stir in the sour cream and mix well and cook until smooth, and it begins to thicken, stirring occasionally.

Add the drained green beans and mix well.  Pour the mixture into greased casserole.  Top with Swiss cheese.  (this can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point)

Melt the remaining 3 Tablespoons of butter and stir in the corn flakes and mix until well coated, toasting lightly.  Spread on top of the cheese.

Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes.

Trust me, once you eat these green beans,  you never go back.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.

His books make great Christmas presents: http://thefensk.com

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Thanksgiving on the Internet

If we were having coffee today I’d be talking about Thanksgiving.  Here’s a little rerun for you, I’ve posted it a couple of times on another blog.  In fact, I used to post this every year.  It was a classic long before the Internet but it became one of the earliest most shared posts back in the early days.  I hope you enjoy it.
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In olden times, long before the wide wide world of webs became popular, the ancient computer tribes followed something called USENET Newsgroups.  I’m not kidding.  Really, they did.
Newsgroups WERE the internet for the lucky few who could spell internet and if you were on-line, you could email and you could follow newsgroups and that was pretty much it.  Look up USENET on wikipedia sometime … it was quite a ride and it worked amazingly well considering it was a mishmash of random computer systems world-wide.
Anyway, I mention that because I was a small part of it for a number of years, helping to moderate one of the newsgroups called rec.food.recipes.  Food and cooking had a pretty good sized niche in USENET.  A moderated newsgroup meant that posts had to be approved before being unleashed, which kept things on-topic. In a general purpose newsgroup, things could get pretty crazy.  The terms FLAMEWAR and GODWIN’S LAW are still in use and they were both associated with the craziness that was part of the general newsgroups.
The moderated recipes newsgroup was fairly sedate.  People posted recipes they liked and made requests for recipes they had lost or just wanted … as in “anybody have a recipe for key lime pie?”
While I was a moderator, every year about this time of year, people would start requesting a legendary turkey recipe known as Black Turkey.  This is one of those things that used to get mimeographed or photocopied and sent around in offices — we’re talking pre-computer days.  In fact, it was one of the first really cool things I ever found on the internet, way back in late 1980-something.  Our newsgroup used to post it every year because we knew someone would eventually request it if we didn’t.
The copy below is the same one I used to post years ago.  It is attributed to author Morton Thompson, by way of an unidentified author, referenced by another author, Robert Benchley.
It is a fun read and believe it or not, when I posted it, people said they actually tried it and it was good, but reviews were mixed and I always thought that perhaps it might not be so good as to be worth all the trouble.  It’s a fun read, though.
Ah, but this is 2015, probably a good 17-18 years since I last posted it.  I did something I never thought about before … I researched it and found more information … two links are listed after the recipe … one is yet another rendering, this one attributed to Canadian humorist Pierre Berton, and the other, a blog post from a Craig Smith reads like an academic treatise and includes several renderings along with quite a bit of insight.  Doesn’t mention Pierre though.
Who knew Black Turkey could be so controversial?
Anyway, here, for your amusement, is the famous Black Turkey Recipe with additions.
——————-Black Turkey, circa 1963————————–
For about a dozen years, at the approach of turkey-eating season, I have 
been trumpeting to all who would listen, and to a good many who would 
rather not, that there is only one way to cook a turkey. This turkey is 
not my turkey. It is the creation of the late Morton Thompson, who wrote 
“Not as a Stranger” and other books.
This recipe was first contained in the manuscript of a book called “The 
Countess” which was given to the late Robert Benchley, who had eaten 
the turkey and was so moved as to write an introduction to the book. 
Benchley then lost the manuscript. He kept hoping it would turn up– 
although not as much, perhaps, as Thompson did, but somehow it vanished, 
irretrievably. Thompson did not have the heart to write it over. He did, 
however, later put his turkey rule in another book. Not a cookbook, but a 
collection of very funny pieces called “Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player”.
THE ONLY WAY TO COOK A TURKEY!!!!!!!
This turkey is work… it requires more attention than an average 
six-month-old baby. There are no shortcuts, as you will see.
Get a HUGE turkey– I don’t mean just a big, big bird, but one that looks 
as though it gave the farmer a hard time when he did it in. It ought to 
weigh between 16 and 30 pounds. Have the poultryman, or butcher, cut its 
head off at the end of the neck, peel back the skin, and remove the neck 
close to the body, leaving the tube. You will want this for stuffing. 
Also , he should leave all the fat on the bird.
When you are ready to cook your bird, rub it inside and out with salt and 
pepper. Give it a friendly pat and set it aside. Chop the heart, gizzard, 
and liver and put them, with the neck, into a stewpan with a clove of
garlic, a large bay leaf, 1/2 tsp coriander, and some salt. I don’t know
how much salt– whatever you think. Cover this with about 5 cups of water 
and put on the stove to simmer. This will be the basting fluid a little 
later.
About this time I generally have my first drink of the day, usually a 
RAMOS FIZZ. I concoct it by taking the whites of four eggs, an equal 
amount of cream, juice of half a lemon (less 1 tsp.), 1/2 tsp. 
confectioner’s sugar, an appropriate amount of gin, and blending with a 
few ice cubes. Pour about two tablespoons of club soda in a chimney glass, 
add the mix, with ice cubes if you prefer. Save your egg yolks, plus 
1 tsp. of lemon — you’ll need them later. Have a good sip! (Add 1 dash
of Orange Flower Water to the drink, not the egg yolks)
Get a huge bowl. Throw into it one diced apple, one diced orange, a 
large can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of a lemon, and three 
tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger (If you like ginger, double 
this -REB). Add 2 cans of drained Chinese water chestnuts.
Mix this altogether, and have another sip of your drink. Get a second, 
somewhat smaller, bowl. Into this, measuring by teaspoons, put: 
2 hot dry mustard 
2 caraway seed 
2 celery seed 
2 poppy seed 
1 black pepper 
2 1/2 oregano 
1/2 mace 
1/2 turmeric 
1/2 marjoram 
1/2 savory 
3/4 sage 
3/4 thyme 1/4 basil 
1/2 chili powder
In the same bowl, add: 
1 Tbl. poultry seasoning 
4 Tbl parsley 
1Tbl salt 
4 headless crushed cloves 
1 well crushed bay leaf 
4 large chopped onions 
6 good dashes Tabasco 
5 crushed garlic cloves 
6 large chopped celery
Wipe your brow, refocus your eyes, get yet another drink–and a third 
bowl. Put in three packages of unseasoned bread crumbs (or two loaves of 
toast or bread crumbs), 3/4 lb. ground veal, 1/2 lb. ground fresh pork, 
1/4 lb. butter, and all the fat you have been able to pull out of the 
bird.
About now it seems advisable to switch drinks. Martinis or stingers are 
recommended (Do this at your own risk – we always did! -REB). Get a 
fourth bowl, an enormous one. Take a sip for a few minutes, wash your 
hands, and mix the contents of all the other bowls. Mix it well. Stuff 
the bird and skewer it. Put the leftover stuffing into the neck tube.
Turn your oven to 500 degrees F and get out a fifth small bowl. Make a 
paste consisting of those four egg yolks and lemon juice left from the 
Ramos Fizz. Add 1 tsp hot dry mustard, a crushed clove of garlic, 1 Tbl 
onion juice, and enough flour to make a stiff paste. When the oven is
red hot, put the bird in, down on the rack. Sip on your drink 
until the bird has begin to brown all over, then take it out and paint 
the bird all over with paste. Put it back in and turn the oven down to
350 degrees F. Let the paste set, then pull the bird out and paint again. 
Keep doing this until the paste is used up.
Add a quart of cider or white wine to the stuff that’s been simmering on 
the stove, This is your basting fluid. The turkey must be basted every 
15 minutes. Don’t argue. Set your timer and keep it up. (When confronted 
with the choice “do I baste from the juice under the bird or do I baste 
with the juice from the pot on the stove?” make certain that the juice 
under the bird neither dries out and burns, nor becomes so thin that 
gravy is weak. When you run out of baste, use cheap red wine. This 
critter makes incredible gravy! -REB) The bird should cook about 12 
minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes. Enlist the aid of your 
friends and family.
As the bird cooks, it will first get a light brown, then a dark brown, 
then darker and darker. After about 2 hours you will think I’m crazy. The 
bird will be turning black. (Newcomers to black turkey will think you are 
demented and drunk on your butt, which, if you’ve followed instructions, 
you are -REB) In fact, by the time it is finished, it will look as though 
we have ruined it. Take a fork and poke at the black cindery crust.
Beneath, the bird will be a gorgeous mahogany, reminding one of those 
golden-browns found in a precious Rembrandt. Stick the fork too deep, and 
the juice will gush to the ceiling. When you take it out, ready to carve 
it, you will find that you do not need a knife. A loud sound will cause
the bird to fall apart like the walls of that famed biblical city. The 
moist flesh will drive you crazy, and the stuffing–well, there is 
nothing like it on this earth. You will make the gravy just like it as 
always done, adding the giblets and what is left of the basting fluid.
Sometime during the meal, use a moment to give thanks to Morton Thompson. 
There is seldom, if ever, leftover turkey when this recipe is used. If 
there is, you’ll find that the fowl retains its moisture for a few days. 
That’s all there is to it. It’s work, hard work— but it’s worth it.
(What follows is not part of the recipe, but is an ingredients list to 
aid in shopping for this monster, or for checking your spice cabinet -REB)
Ingredients List:
1 turkey 
salt 
garlic 
4 eggs 
1 apple 
1 orange 
1 large can crushed pineapple 
1 lemon 
4 large onions 
6 celery stalks 
buncha preserved ginger 
2 cans water chestnuts 
3 packages unseasoned bread crumbs 
3/4 pounds ground veal 
1/2 pounds ground pork 
1/4 pounds 
butter 
onion juice 
1 quart apple cider
Spice List:

basil 
bay leaf 
caraway seed 
celery seed 
chili powder 
cloves 
ground coriander 
mace 
marjoram 
dry mustard 
oregano 
parsley 
pepper, black 
poultry seasoning 
poppy seed 
sage 
savory 
Tabasco 
thyme

turmeric
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Now, as promised,  two more links, just to complete your holiday excursion … enjoy

WeekendCoffeeShare-Holidaze?

img_6284If we were having coffee I’d no doubt mention the upcoming holiday.  I really like Thanksgiving, which is really surprising because it generally turns out to be an ordeal.

For one thing, I do all the cooking.  Every bit of it.  It gives me a chance to dig in my heels and let fly.  That sounds better than it is.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the food is almost always awesome.  But it isn’t that hard.  We’ve gone with a fairly set menu for years.  I sort of inherited this legacy when I got married.

When I was single, I usually went home for the holidays.  I grew up in Texas — Houston, to be specific,  and for a number of  years lived in Austin.  That’s less than three hours away.  When I got married, it seemed logical enough to just start our own traditions with my new family.  My darling bride’s family had a number of old favorites … a well-established tradition.  Her mother died not too long before we got married so I just sort of fell into what she had started.  She was a tiny woman but left some big shoes to fill.  Man, I wish I had been able to spend some time in the kitchen with her.

Growing up, we always had a spread at home … but we didn’t have anything really specific as in “THIS IS WHAT WE ALWAYS HAVE.”  Not that I remember, anyway. My mom always concentrated mostly on the dressing, but it seems to me that she just sort of threw it together and would even dry out french bread slices in the oven.  I’ve done that but don’t see anything wrong with commercially prepared bread crumbs.  My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years.  Kinda fun, actually.  Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.

My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years.  Kinda fun, actually.  Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.

Over the years I’ve added a couple including a couple I mined from an old collection of recipes I found at my mom’s house on a visit.  These hadn’t seen the light of day for dozens of years … they had just been shoved in a closet and forgotten.  I’ve incorporated them into my mix … figuring that they’d skipped a generation but now had come home to roost.

So here’s the menu, of sorts.  Turkey and dressing, of course.  I don’t have a special recipe … just sort of throw the dressing together with veg and giblets and broth made from the giblets.  Shhhh, don’t tell the family.  But for me that’s what gives it that special “stuffing/dressing” texture and taste.  I don’t stuff the turkey, but do drape six or seven slices of bacon over it.  That sort of bastes it … then the bacon gets really crispy and has a turkey-flavored kick.  I always think I should find some “t-day” use for it but it’s so good my daughter and I end up eating it.  One last word … the gravy made from the drippings is sublime.  You need a gravy separator because there is so much bacon grease but there is nothing like it in this world.

Then we have Mamah Salad.  It’s an aspic.  Sounds horrid, tomato soup, cream cheese, veggies, and of all things, peas.  It was a depression “holiday” dish from my late father-in-law’s family.  The matriarch, “Mamah” cobbled it together out of what they had available.  It comes out a sort of pastel peachy color … so it makes an interesting addition to the table.  It really grows on you until it becomes something I almost crave during the holidays.

Swiss Green Beans is another holiday dish that has been made in my wife’s family so long no one remembers where it came from.  I collect cookbooks and actually found a really close variation of it … from a Gladys Tabor cookbook.  Don’t know Gladys?  She was one of the premier food writers in the thirties and forties.  When you taste these green beans you are forever spoiled … what people have come to consider “traditional” green bean casserole pales in comparison and just doesn’t sit right on your palate anymore.  And it is just as simple … and has a lot of similarities.  The binder is a sour cream bechamel and it is topped with Swiss cheese and a coating of … no, not fried onions or bread crumbs but crushed and buttered corn flakes.  Trust me. It’s good.

I’ve added a corn/cornbread casserole … another simple dish mixing butter, sour cream, creamed corn, and whole kernel corn …  binding together with jiffy cornbread baking mix.  Also a sweet potato pudding recipe … swimming in butter and brown sugar and marshmallows.  Two recipes I rescued from my family’s closet were other gelatin salads … a cranberry-orange-pecan salad that ranks right up there with Mama Salad in “THIS IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT.”
Another one is another orange salad that combines cheese and orange jello and whipped cream.  Not just any cheese. It calls for good old-fashioned American Cheese.  I’ve tried it with other cheeses … just doesn’t cut it.  Also not processed cheese food product (someone should document the descent of civilization that took us from American Cheese to Cheese Food to Cheese Food Product).   You have to go to the deli and order a big hunk of real American Cheese.  It’s awesome.  Sometimes I opt the orange salad to Christmas.  There’s another recipe for a Strawberry-banana-pineapple gelatin salad we used to always make but it’s huge and never keeps very well and although we really like it we end up with a lot left over so I sometimes let that one slide.  Or make it at Christmas.

If I have time and room in the kitchen, I’ll make rolls … another hand-me-down recipe from Mamah.  Also, depending on space issues and the number of guests, I’ll make another dish or two for the grandkids …

Desserts?  Who the heck has room for dessert?   Pumpkin Pie, naturally.  I love pumpkin pie.  But everybody likes my Buttermilk Pie.  Gotta make Buttermilk Pie.  It was a recipe my wife saw on TV on some show she doesn’t remember, probably on PBS because this predates the food network.  All she managed to scratch down was the ingredient list.  Funny, I lost that once.  I was helping manage a recipe site on the early internet and asked for other recipes.  I bet I gained ten pounds testing recipes … some were close but none were exactly right.  Then one day I found the tattered envelope that had the recipe list … tucked away into a cookbook.  You can find that one on food.com … it’s recipe #56.  If you search buttermilk pie it is one of the first things that pops up.  Note: that’s recipe #56 out of hundreds of thousands.  The guy who originally started the database that ended up on food.com polled us on the recipe newsgroup for additions to help get started.  Pretty cool, really.

So my guiding forces are similarities and convenience.  Most of the dishes can be made the day before, including the green beans.  I first realized that when I was making the gelatine salads … they HAVE to be made the day before.  But everything can go in the oven, in stages, based upon cooking time.  I do the turky first, then as THE TIME approaches I schedule everything else into the oven.  Rolls last … right before serving time.

Man, I’m hungry now.  Everyone, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving this Thursday!  I better start cleaning the house now.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  His latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP was just published.  More info at http://thefensk.com