Since Pilgrim times, Thanksgiving ahd the hunt have been traditional partners, and in the South, at least, this is still so. After rising early, downing a quick cup of coffee and then spending the cold early hours afield, a crackling fire and hot breakfast are welcome. A traditional Thanksgiving breakfast, with an emphasis on game and food that waits well in warming dishes on a sideboard, is a good way to feed a crowd, whether gathered for the hunt or the football game.
Such a hearty repast, though, would not be served Thanksgiving morning, with a trukey dinner on the schedule; rather, it would be served Friday, Saturday or Sunday around 10 or 11 o'clock. Or earlier, if guests have been out really early. One or two dishes from the traditional hearty breakfast could easily be made ahead and set out Thanksgiving Day, however, leaving the cook free to concentrate on preparing the turkey.
A traditional Thanksgiving breakfast could include fresh fruit ambrosia, made a day or two ahead and refrigerated to give the flavors a chance to blend. mA big bowl of ambrosia set in crushed ice is fine for beginning or ending breakfast. Guests ladle their own.
Besides tangy ambrosia, there could be a simple stew of venison, if you have it, or beef. This should be a very plain meat and gravy stew that goes well over toast, biscuits, or grits. Also, a country ham, cooked ahead and served cold, is excellent. Sliced paper-thin and placed between the halves of a hot biscuit, this is an unsurpassed eye-opener. Ham biscuits can easily be joined with their partners, sausage biscuits. Country-style bulk sausage patties may be fried ahead, drained, then reheated in a chafing dish. A very low flame will keep the patties moist and warm. Next in line on the warming tray is a casserole of plum Southern quail. These delicate gamebirds are available now in most large markets and from shops specializing in game. If pen-fed birds are bought, they are often larger than birds from wild conveys, and one bird per serving is sufficient. However, a pair of wild quail may be needed for proper serving. With its traditional emphasis on game, the Thanksgiving breakfast could be rounded out nicely with Southern-fried rabbit and cream gravy. Native cotton-tails, when cleaned, may weigh only a pound or two. Commercially packed rabbits usually weigh about three pounds, and yield more servings. A small rabbit will serve two, possibly three. A larger rabbit from the frozen food section at the supermarket will serve three or four. They may be used interchangeably, though the larger rabbit obviously requires longer cooking. Small, young frying chickens may be substituted from rabbit in the recipe that follows.
To round out the Thanksgiving breakfast menu, there should be plenty of hot biscuits and spoonbread muffins, pots of jam, molasses and honey, and plenty of sweet butter. And of course there should be grits. With an occasional stirring, grits hold quite well over water in a chafing dish. Quick-grits are perfectly legitimate and time-saving. There should also be pots of tea and coffee and possibly consomme. Sometimes a decanter of sherry is noticeable on the sideboard at such a breakfast.
And finally we come to the matter of eggs. What! No eggs on a breakfast menu? Well, we all know there is nothing to loathsome as poorly cooked eggs. A huge dish of cold, scrambled eggs or a rigid mass of "egg-loaf" are equally unappealing. Eggs require individual and careful attention. And since the idea of a breakfast from the sideboard is to liberate the cook, getting an egg at a Thanksgiving breakfast must not be automatic, merely negotiable. So, during Thanksgiving, a step to the sideboard at breakfast time is definitely in the right direction. AMBROSIA (12 or more servings) 2 dozen firm, thin-skinned oranges 6 tart apples, peeled and cut into small bits 2 (1-pound) cans crushed pineapple, undrained 1 medium-sized fresh conconut, grated Sugar to taste (optional)
Peel oranges, being careful to remove all white skin. Seed and chop oranges into bite-size bits, saving all juice. Peel, core and cut apples into bits. Add to oranges in bowl. Add the two cans of crushed pineapple, juice and all. Crack coconut, drain. Remove shell and brown lining, and grate coconut meat. Add to other ingredients. Sugar to taste may be added, but is not necessary. Refrigerate at least overnight. Serve cold in small bowls. SPOONBREAD MUFFINS (Makes about 18 muffins) 2 cups cornmeal 1 teaspoon salt 2cups boiling water 1 cup cold milk 2 eggs, well beaten 4 teaspoons baking powder 1 tablespoon melted butter
Sift the cornmeal and salt together.Pour the boiling water over them and stir to prevent lumps. Add milk, stir. Add other ingredients. Pour into cold greased and floured muffin tins. Bake in 375-degree oven 30 minutes. (To get batter ready ahead of time, do not add baking powder or butter until ready to bake.) SOUTHERN-FRIED RABBIT (or chicken) (2 or 3 servings) 1 rabbit, 1 to 2 pounds 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper Cooking fat (about 2 inches in frying pan)
Cut cleaned rabbit into serving pieces (small rabbit should be quartered. Salt and pepper each piece, and roll each piece in flour. Let stand 5 minutes and roll again. Place pieces in the hot fat and cover for 5 minutes. Remove top, and when rabbit is brown, turn to other side. Let it brown, put cover on again and cook 5 minutes. Remove cover and cook until tender (about 25 to 30 minutes total). Remove to absorbent paper. Serve with gravy.
Note: Larger rabbits should be parboiled in salted water 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, cut in serving pieces and proceed according to recipe. Cream Gravy (About 1 1/2 cups, enough for 1 rabbit.)
Pour all cooking fat out of the frying pan except 3 tablespoons. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour until thick and smooth. Add 1 cup water and stir until smooth. Just before serving, add 1/2 cup evaporated milk. Bring to slow boil and serve at once. SANDHILLS QUAIL CASSEROLE (4 servings) 12 very small white-onions, peeled and left whole 1 carrot, grated 12 potato balls (scooped from large raw potato with melon ball cutter) 1 1/2 cups chicken broth 1/4 pound butter 6 quail Salt and pepper, flour 1/4 pound of butter 6 quail Salt and pepper, flour 1/4 teaspoon rosemary 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1/4 teaspoon tarragon 1 cup button mushrooms 1 cup heavy cream
In a saucepan place 3 cups salted water and onions. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Drain the water off, and to the onions in the saucepan add the grated carrot, potato balls, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
In a skillet, melt butter. Rub quail (split lengthwise) with salt and pepper, dust lightly with flour and saute the quail in butter until lightly browned -- about 10 minutes. Remove quail from skillet and arrange in the bottom of an earthenware casserole big enough to hold the quail. Sprinkle with rosemary, thyme and tarragon. Pour the onion-potato-stock mixture from saucepan over the birds. Cover casserole and put in preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove the cover, add the cup of button mushrooms and cup of heavy cream. Replace cover, roast 15 minutes. Remove the cover, add the cup of button mushrooms and cup of heavy cream. Replace cover, roast 15 minutes longer. Serve. (This casserole may be prepared ahead, up to the point of adding mushrooms and cream. cA half-hour before serving, add mushrooms and cream and proceed according to directions). Sagey sausage patties (4 servings)
To 1 pound mild or plain bulk sausage, add a least 1/2 teaspoon dried sage and mix well. Add a light sprinkling of red pepper. Form into 8 patties and fry in a heavy skillet. Drain on absorbent paper. This may be done a day ahead, patties refrigerated. To serve, place in chafing dish over low flame. COUNTRY VENISON OR BEEF STEW (4 servings) 2 pounds venison or beef cubes, for stewing 1/2 pound butter or margarine Flour, salt, pepper Bay leaf (optional) 2 cans (10 1/2 ounces) consomme
Melt margarine in a deep, heavy kettle. Dredge meat cubes in flour. Place meat in hot butter to brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. When cubes are browned, add both cans consomme, bay leaf and enough hot water to barely cover meat. Lower heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with biscuits, toast or grits. BUTTERMILK BISCUITS (makes about 12 biscuits) 1/3 cup pure lard 2 cups self-rising flour 2/3 cup buttermilk
Cut lard into 1 1/2 cups flour in mixing bowl. Add all milk and stir thoroughly. Pour soft mixture from bowl onto waxed paper and knead 1/2 cup remaining flour in gently. When dough can be handled without sticking to hands, roll out and cut biscuits with 2-inch cutter. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake in preheated 450-degree oven until lightly browned -- about 15 to 20 minutes.