Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Big Fat East Texas Thanksgiving

For those that know me, I am a Texas boy at heart. Although I have never delved to deeply into my ancestry, which I should, I know that my ancestors are of Scottish and Dutch decent.  My father and his family started migrating to Crockett, TX in the late 19th and early 20th century from Indiana.  My mother's side of the family is a little more difficult but they resided in Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas, and North Texas.  My parents met in Fort Smith, AR during WWII as my father was stationed at Camp Chaffee in Forth Smith.  What does all this have to do with Thanksgiving and BBQ?  Give me a minute.  You see, almost all my family was born in Texas.  My maternal grandmother Mama (pronounced "mehmaw'), was born in Pecan Gap, Texas and attended Mary Hardin Baylor where she played women's college basketball.  She used to explain to me that after every basket, they would return to center court to tip off again.  Anyway, my point is that I am not a native Texan as I was born in Pittsburgh, PA but one by lineage and upbringing.  I grew up wearing boots and cowboy hats.  I also mixed in a coonskin cap for good measure.  Where am I going with this?  Well, I always imagined our Crockett, TX home place to be more Central TX.  I have referred to it as far Eastern Central Texas.  This delusion has been forever blown apart.

Thanksgiving day started normal enough, getting up early to fix a light breakfast and enjoy good cup of coffee.

Since we were planning on about 16 people, mostly adults, we decided to cook turkey, ham, and smoke some turkey legs.  Since I consider smoked turkey to fall into the BBQ category, turkey  legs are in there too.  We planned to eat at two, so I fired up the pit at 9:00 a.m.  planning on a 3-4 hour cook and put the legs on at 10:00 a.m.  I used apple wood for my fire as I was told that turkey does really well with apple wood.  I cooked nine legs which were brined overnight in a brown sugar and saltwater brine.  Following is the brine recipe:
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
40 Black Peppercorns
1 T. Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning
6 cups Ice Water
2 cups Hot water
Boil 2 cups of water and pour over dry ingredients, whisk until dissolved.  Add six cups Ice water and chill in the fridge until  it comes down to 40 degrees F.  Add legs and brine overnight. 
I pulled the legs out of the brine in the morning and rinsed and dried them thoroughly. I sprinkled them moderately with Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning and then slathered the legs with mayonnaise.  Yes, I used mayonnaise. 
Mayonnaise is great for cooking poultry with the skin on as the oil renders away and the egg in the mayonnaise forms a thin film on the poultry, prevents the skin from burning, and keeps the juices in the meat.  I cooked the legs on the pit for 3 hours at an average of 240 degrees F.  towards the end I spritzed them a couple of times with a 1:1 mix of water and Apple Cider Vinegar just to keep them moist on the outside.
Unfortunately as I was pulling the legs off the pit, things got hectic and I forgot to take a picture of them when they were done, but wow, these were delicious.  Not too smoky, very moist and the meat just pulled away from the bone.  This was my first attempt at Turkey legs and I can tell you I will be doing them again and not just on Thanksgiving.
 Now on to the story.  I have a cousin whom I have been close to since High School.  Her husband and I have been acquaintances over the years but this year we decided to go to BBQ camp together last June at Texas A&M.  This is a 3 day course and we had a blast.  We have become close friends ever since so we decided to fry turkeys for the main course. 
Larry shows up to the house and starts unloading his Turkey frying gear.  He is wearing a San Antonio Spurs Santa hat.  I would still be insulted but the Rockets beat the tar out of the Spurs last night so I will let bygones be bygones.
So there we are, frying and smoking turkey and having a laugh.  Larry and Stephanie (my cousin), have two boys.  One in college and one in high school.  They're bored and ask Larry if they can go drive around the pastures and see what they can see, I am in the house to get some foil to wrap the turkey legs in.  I come out, ask Larry where the boys went and he says "they went out to drive around the pastures", I said "You know we just had 7" of rain in the last 5 days" he said "that much?".  Well 10 minutes later he gets the call that they had buried the truck up to the axles.  They ask for him to come pick them up as they were about 3/4 of a mile away.  He says no and so 30 minutes later they come walking up laughing.  They ask to borrow Larry's truck to go pull the other truck out.  I do not question the wisdom of this and off they go.  Larry checks the temp on the turkeys that are frying and sits down next to me and says: "You know they are going to stick that one as well, right?" I said "Yup".
The call came, they were told to walk back again and come eat as the food was ready.  We all had a wonderful meal.  I practiced what I preached and got to spend good quality time telling lies and listening to them.  After the meal, we had to get a couple of trucks unstuck.  My son gets in his truck and I ask him where he is going.  He says that he is going to go see what the situation was.  I said, your going to stick that one too.  He says: "Dad, I know this property, I am not a dumba*ss".  Do I need to explain what happened? I think not.  3 trucks stuck in the mud. I suspect I am in East Texas.  If you get most of the humor in the movie "Bernie" and know someone like most of the characters in it, you're in East Texas.  I don't want you get the wrong idea, these are intelligent boys that stuck these trucks.  You just cant turn off the E. Texas gene.
So, my son goes out to fire up our tractor to pull the trucks out and.... flat tire.  So now we have to call my other cousin who was at another gathering and tell him we need his 90hp tractor to get not one, but 3 trucks out. 

He comes, assesses the situation, and is not optimistic but gets all three out.  Two of the trucks got stuck twice more on the way out so a total of six rescues.  East Texas.

I have a cousin who is a history buff.  I mean he reads more than anyone I know.  so my daughter asks him to go over her civil war test review for U.S. History.  He says " you mean the war of Northern aggression?" East Texas. We all agree that she better stick to whatever the revised history is in her textbook and notes.

We played 42, the greatest domino game ever invented and hoped the Longhorns would lose. East Texas.

So, we had a blast, made some great stories that will only get better with time, ate some great food, prayed, laughed, and renewed friendships.  My many thanks to all the folks that cooked, cleaned, and made this such a wonderful day.  It was the best Thanksgiving ever and my heart lives in East Texas.
My hopes that everyone had the same.
God and Texas