Holiday Treats

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(HOST) This week, VPR commentators are serving up some Very Vermont Food. Today, with commentator Ruth Page, it’s Vermont turkey, complete with home grown vegetables, cornbread dressing and other family favorites.

(PAGE) Feasts have been the way for people to celebrate special occasions for thousands of years. To gather family and friends, and enjoy conversation and laughter while eating delicious foods is a warm and natural way to celebrate holidays.

I’m a Pennsylvanian, married to a fifth-generation Vermonter from the little town of Hyde Park. I was a city kid, born just outside Philadelphia; Proc was a country kid. He was a hard worker who, as a boy, raised a calf and milked cows and learned from his mother how to be a gardener. His dad was a banker in Hyde Park, his mother, a lady from Georgia with a lovely accent she never lost, and a fine gardener.

Hence our feasts: Proc taught me to garden, and together we raised all our vegetables and froze enough for the long winters. We always got a free-range Vermont turkey (they’re still the best I’ve ever tasted). We stuffed it with Southern cornbread dressing that the whole family became committed to for good.

It’s superb. Make enough cornbread to stuff whatever size Vermont turkey you start with. Choose several large stalks of celery and a big onion (two, if your bird is more than 12 pounds or so) and grind those up together. Crumble the cornbread in a bowl, work in the vegetables by hand, add some melted butter and salt and pepper. Then taste, but control yourself; you need to have enough left for people to get seconds. Put it in the fridge overnight and stuff your bird in the morning. Don’t anoint the turkey with anything but salt and pepper; it will have ample fat to get crisp. Throw some onion, carrot and celery pieces into the pan to add to the flavor of the gravy, and voila.

For such a feast, we make flour-thickened gravy so there’ll be enough to go around. And be sure to cook the neck, heart and gizzard in a separate pot, so you can chop them and use them and their broth to thin the gravy.

Get whatever veggies everyone prefers from the freezer: we always had home-grown corn, peas and squash, our own potatoes, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, plus cranberries chopped with Florida oranges and not-very-much sugar, as a relish.

Breakfast is always local bacon, Philadelphia scrapple sliced thin and sauteed to utter crispness, pancakes with Vermont maple syrup on request, Philadelphia cinnamon buns, which are second to none, and plenty of fresh orange juice and half-grapefruits, followed by tiring hours of gift opening and a walk to shake down the breakfast and make room for dinner.

The trick with the buns is to raise the dough long enough to rise high; punch it down to rise again; then roll it out. Brush with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon, then sprinkle plenty of brown sugar and raisins on it. Roll up, and cut into buns. Put them into buttered, brown-sugar sprinkled pans to rise once more, then bake in a 350-degree oven until they’re goldy-brown. Great for breakfast and snacks, but too heavy for dinner-time. There won’t be any left anyway.

This is Ruth Page starting to feel hungry.

This afternoon, commentator Rachel Johnson gets ready to make her family’s Christmas Eve favorite: Piroghies or Polish potato dumplings.

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