Cardella: Stuffing

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By Tom Cardella

You can have the turkey. Just let me at the stuffing. You realize that if we eliminate the bird from the Thanksgiving meal, no president would ever have to pardon a turkey. I heard the last gobbler Trump pardoned is being forced to pay its fair share of its upkeep. Trump calls the turkey “NATO,” which the rest of Europe does not find funny. Before the pardon, Trump asked the turkey if he voted for him.

Before vegetarians get their hopes up, they should know that in South Philadelphia, even the stuffing contains meat. My favorite is my wife’s stuffing, which is three-quarters Italian sausage and one-quarter bread. The bread is only there to keep the sausage company. The pig is king around here even at Thanksgiving. Sure, we give a nod to turkey at Thanksgiving, but only because we honor America. It’s only our sense of patriotism that compels us to eat turkey every Thanksgiving. If we had our Italian druthers, Thanksgiving dinner would feature roast pork with a slab of sharp provolone and some long hots. Which, by the way, is how we bring in the New Year.

Tradition is huge here in South Philly. So, most of us insist on beginning our Thanksgiving dinner with escarole soup (yes, it has tiny meatballs floating in it). We follow the soup with a nice dish of manicotti (preferably homemade). By the time we finish off several plates of manicotti — with meatballs, of course — and the sausage stuffing, we have the perfect excuse to bypass the turkey. Geez, how did this happen? We’re stuffed! Oh well. Turkey always tastes better left over, they say. Yeah, right.

It took a good 60 or 70 years in my family before canned cranberry sauce was considered more than a perfunctory ornament to the poor turkey. At the end of our meal, you could always bet on the cranberry sauce (actually, it’s jelly) being left almost untouched. It took my daughter to introduce us to homemade cranberry sauce (goodbye, OCEAN SPRAY) to make us understand why the Pilgrims might’ve eaten it in the first place. Incidentally, how the hell does OCEAN SPRAY stay in business just making stuff out of cranberries? Who drinks the juice unless they have a bladder infection?

After you’ve consumed the manicotti (“manigut” to us), you would think we would pass on dessert. You would be wrong. Once again, tradition rears its ugly head in the form of pumpkin pie. It’s not that I don’t eat pumpkin pie. I object to pumpkin pie getting top billing among all the pies in the world, even at Thanksgiving. Here’s the deal — I don’t believe pumpkin pie is really an American favorite. If it were, wouldn’t we eat pumpkin pie year-round and not only on Thanksgiving and Christmas? Some folks favor mince pie during the holiday season. My father liked mince pie. I forgive him for that. Every person has their flaws. I don’t even understand the concept of “mince.” But enough about mince pie, dear reader.

If someone served you pumpkin pie in April, you’d think they were nuts. No self-respecting bakery sells pumpkin pie out of season. And I submit to you that if a pie is out of season, it’s just not that popular. Is apple pie ever out of season? Would you be offended if you were served lemon meringue pie (my favorite) 12 months out of the year? I rest my case.

So, I don’t know what the rest of you do for dessert on Thanksgiving, but we gorge ourselves on all kinds of great homemade desserts and use the pumpkin pie — much like the turkey — as a centerpiece on the dinner table. Out come two kinds of chocolate chip cookies — my daughter’s version and my wife’s. I enjoy the silent competition between them. My secret — I prefer my daughter’s chocolate chippers. But my wife bakes pizzelles that are the stuff dreams are made of. If the Pilgrims and the Native-Americans knew about pizzelles, pumpkin pie would have been used for bait. In fact, if STARBUCKS and DUNKIN’ DONUTS were smart, they’d ditch their pumpkin lattes in favor of pizzelle mochachinos.

I know watching football is supposed to be the American thing to do on Thanksgiving. But c’mon. Give yourself and your family a break. You really need to watch the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving? Later on, the freakin’ Dallas Cowboys?

How the hell did the Cowboys get to be regulars on Thanksgiving anyway? Jerry Jones must’ve bribed the Commish. Yeah, the Cowboys DID beat the Eagles last week (don’t get me started on that, please), but really, how the hell can the Cowboys be “America’s team,” when Dallas is fed up with them as THEIR own team? The Cowboys haven’t been relevant since I gave up wearing my Edwardian suit (with the flared polyester slacks).

You know what I hope happens during the Thanksgiving game in Dallas? I hope all the Dallas cheerleaders take a knee during the National Anthem and give Jerry Jones and his favorite president a serious case of agita. Jones probably serves turkey with BBQ sauce and without stuffing at his dinner table. This moak probably eats his turkey with canned cranberry jelly and likes it. I bet Jones ends his meal with a slice of pumpkin pie and watches while his dinner guest Chris Christie eats the rest.