“Oh, you just cut it up real small, no one knows what’s in there anyway,” says my 83-year old grandmother, waving away the look I’m giving her. I knew that the neck-meat from our turkey would go back into the base stock, but the giblets? I never realized there were teeny pieces of heart poured over my mashed potatoes.
Learning to make my grandmother’s gravy had long been filed in the I’ll Have to Do That Someday part of my brain. Then, in the fall of 2007, she flipped her car while driving her Meals On Wheels route. She came out of it—a new item permanently added to my family’s things-we’re-thankful-for list—but her recovery was long. That year, Thanksgiving was prepared by my mom and her sisters, who know all of their mother’s recipes—with the exception of her gravy. Instead of Grandma’s gravy, jars of Heinz marred the bounty spread before us, and as their seals popped, I vowed to make sure we were never without the real stuff again.
Which brings us to the giblets. Handing me a baster, Grandma tells me to suck up all the juice that’s run out of the roasting turkey, then transfer it to a separator that will block the fat when I’m pouring it into our cauldron. She’s already at work on the final step, and as her hands—tiny, gnarled by arthritis, stronger than any others I’ve ever felt—start concocting the signature flour/water mixture that’s the true secret, people, to lump-free gravy, I can’t help but smile. First, because she’s shaking it to death in a Hidden Valley make-your-own-dressing cruet that’s older than I am. But also because I know her story: Her mother, who didn’t list cooking as one of her skills, didn’t teach her how to do this. My grandfather’s mother—my namesake—didn’t, either. “Well,” she says, as she stares into the pot of ingredients that are slowly becoming the thing that, to me, most means her, “It’s just the way I thought it could be done.” Lucky for me—and the generations of our family still to come—she was right.