I think about this every Thanksgiving. Somewhere a woman is crying. Some of you understand her suffering. It is gravy time.
The turkey is out of the oven and waiting to be sculpted by some proud swashbuckler. The mashed potatoes are fluffed and sitting patiently. Aunt Stephanie’s creative broccoli and a Cranberry Something are lined up and ready to go.
It is time to create that unholy mixture of meat fat and flour that will suffocate all those subtle tastes labored on by the contributors to this feast. Even if it’s the only time of the year that anyone even makes or eats gravy people expect perfection. In the end, all the guests will taste is the gravy. All they will remember is the gravy. The dinner will collapse or succeed on the perfect, silken, salty beauty of this chemical mix.
Gravy is the glue that holds the dinner together. But it is not supposed to taste or look like glue. Neither is it supposed to look like an oil slick, nor pour out in chunks. It should not be mistaken for tiny dumplings.
Thanksgiving and its allegiance to tradition – for why else do we continue to eat this stuff? – demands that the hostess or the mother or the grandmother be the gravy maker.
But not everyone knows how, nor will they ever. I have been gravy challenged since the days when cooks slid marshmallows and cream cheese inside green jello and called it a salad. My cooking and my tastes have progressed since then. But then comes Thanksgiving and that means turkey and the trimmings which include gravy. And while I have fond memories of my grandmother’s and my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s gravy, it now represents nothing but heartburn to me.
So there you are with everything ready and you have to take time out to have a breakdown over this brown goop which tradition dictates cannot come out of a can or a bag. Not only are you expected to do it well, you are to do it effortlessly and in those last three minutes when the kitchen fills with starving guests, swilling wine, having a great old time as you dump flour into a pool of gurgling grease. You stir. You pray. It clots. You weep, more salt for the gravy.