Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s woven together with memories of special people, fun celebrations and, of course, great food. I asked two outstanding Texas cooks, Elizabeth (Liz) Ripple of Fayetteville and Linda Harris of Conroe, to each share a favorite Thanksgiving recipe and the story behind it.
Big Gatherings, Even Bigger Memories
Liz Michalsky Ripple remembers many delicious turkey and dressing dinners at Thanksgiving from her youth. However, another dish, which is a meal in itself, is especially near and dear to the hearts of all the Michalsky family.
To this day, when Liz’s mom, Margaret Matura Michalsky, asks, “What do you want for our holiday lunch?” her family always says, “Chili, please, with all the trimmings!”
Chili? You heard right!
“My mom makes the best!” Liz says.
Because the Michalsky family owned and operated a meat processing plant in Fayetteville for 34 years, Margaret still has access to commercial meat grinders.
“Mom puts the ‘chili plate’ in her grinder,” Liz says.
“The meat comes out coarser than the texture of regular commercial ground hamburger meat. Sometimes I hear a little grumbling about the big pieces of meat, but that’s genuine Czech chili!”
Liz understands why her mom uses 10 pounds of meat to make a single batch of chili.
“Because it calls for so many ingredients, it takes a whole day to make Mom’s recipe. After investing that much time, it’s great to have containers you can take from the freezer whenever you are short on time and want a quick, delicious meal.
“Mom freezes her leftovers in empty Cool Whip containers to give away. So many people have been blessed with her chili and they all love it.”
Liz and her family like their mother’s chili anytime of the year, but especially on cold days and during the holidays.
“It is good with corn chips, onions and cheese, crackers or served over enchiladas or tamales,” Liz adds.
Good for you, too!
“Some of the ingredients my mom puts into her chili are not typical or traditional, but they add so much flavor. Veggies like celery are blended, so you can’t even guess what’s in it.”
Margaret’s has refined her chili recipe after preparing it for over 50 years.
Here’s the typed version of Margaret’s handwritten recipe.
(Finally) written out in 2018 by Margaret Michalsky*
8 to 10 lbs. chili meat, some pork too
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Salt to taste
A good ½ C fresh ground coarse black pepper
2 Tbsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. oregano
2 Tbsp. paprika (optional)
1 tsp Cayenne pepper (optional)
1 stalk celery (the whole thing)
10 cloves garlic
3 green peppers
1 bunch parsley
4 qts. tomatoes
5 pints Picante sauce
2 large cans tomato paste
3 tall cans tomato sauce
½ cup chili powder
Cook meat in oil till no longer pink. Add salt, black pepper, cumin and oregano. Cook about 30 minutes. Put onions, celery, garlic, green peppers and parsley in a blender or food processor with a little water and blend together. Add vegetable mix to the meat and cook about 30 minutes on medium heat. Put tomatoes and Picante in food processor and blend; add this to the meat with tomato paste and tomato sauce and the water (about 2 quarts or less) used to wash out the cans. Lastly, add chili powder and stir well. More water or beef broth (for extra flavor) may be added if you want it thinner.
Simmer for at least 1 hour.
* I can my own tomatoes and Picante sauce.
Liz looks back
“Growing up, my siblings and I had it good, but didn’t realize how lucky we were,” Liz says.
“Although we wanted to, our family hardly ever went out to eat when we were growing up. Now I know we didn’t miss a thing.
“We had Mom, the best cook in the county!”
The majority of the Michalsky’s breakfasts were hot pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, grits, Cream of Wheat, French toast, eggs, bacon or ham. The only cereal that came in a box from the grocery store was corn flakes.
Come to think of it
“There was hardly a day when there wasn’t a wonderful treat waiting for us when we got home from school,” Liz says with a sigh.
Some days Liz would not mind being a kid again!
Putting the Past in Perspective
Linda Medeiros Harris was born in Hawaii and lived there for the first nine years of her life. She was a member of a large extended family whose ancestors came from the Madeira Islands off Portugal’s coast.
Holidays like Thanksgiving were special occasions. Linda’s mother and aunts got together each year to prepare delicacies like Portuguese Sweet Bread, a delicious but very time-consuming tradition.
“We always had a traditional turkey dinner at Thanksgiving with all the trimmings in Hawaii, just like stateside,” Linda recalls.
A family split
Linda’s close familial connections were severed when her widowed mother married again. Linda’s new stepfather, who was serving in the U.S. Navy, moved the family to California.
A few years later, Linda was a senior in high school when she was sent to live with her stepfather’s kin in San Antonio. Eventually, Linda’s mother, stepfather, sister and two half-sisters moved to Japan. She never again lived with her family.
“It was a pretty awful time,” recalls Linda.
The family splits again
As Thanksgiving 1963 approached, Linda began frantically racking her brain for something familiar that would bring a measure of comfort.
“When I talked to my mom on the phone one day, I told her I wanted my great-grandmother’s turkey stuffing recipe. She found it and called me back, warning me I’d have to add and taste when it came to the amounts of allspice, pepper and salt. Then she read the recipe to me and I hurriedly wrote it down.
“I’ve pulled out that piece of paper every Thanksgiving for almost 60 years.”
LINDA’S TURKEY STUFFING
- Boil the turkey neck, liver and gizzards in a pot of water.
- Save the water and take 1/2 loaf of bread (preferably several days old, not fresh), break it up and place in water.
- Put oil in deep pot and chop up one clove of garlic. Grind or finely chop the boiled meat, one onion, 4 stalks of celery, 1/2 bunch of parsley (can be canned) and fry it all. Then add the bread and fry it, too. Add water or chicken broth if it appears too dry.
- Add allspice, pepper and salt a little at a time to taste. After you’re finished, let the mixture cool and refrigerate it.
- The next day, put salt, pepper and butter (two blocks in the neck and two blocks in the breast cavity) and stuff the turkey. Rub butter on the outside of the turkey. (If you don’t want to stuff the turkey, just put the dressing in a casserole.)
- Cover the turkey in tinfoil while it’s cooking and baste it; after it’s cooked, remove the tinfoil and let it brown.
Embodying the Thanksgiving spirit
Linda and her husband, Harold, delight in hosting bountiful Thanksgiving dinners. The more tables they need to set up to accommodate their guests, the happier they are.
“The size of the turkey may vary by the number of guests we are hosting, but this is the stuffing I make the night before Thanksgiving. Some years I’ll stuff the turkey and other years, I’ll bake it in a casserole.
“It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in our house without it,” Linda adds.
Another constant in the Harris household is a blessing that’s said before the meal:
Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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While this year’s celebrations may be different because of COVID concerns, the significance of the holiday won’t change. Happy Thanksgiving!