“Are you sure?”
My husband looked at me quizzically.
“Yes. She also uses stuffing.”
“Really,” he continued to question.
“We’ll see,” I replied diplomatically.
This was the tail end of a serious conversation in late October about the contents of my mother’s famed turkey soup. It’s a dish she has crafted sans recipe each Thanksgiving evening since I was a child.
With a family member, or two or three, in the kitchen cleaning plates and dishes following hours of gabbing, feasting and storytelling, at my parent’s house others crowd by the fireplace perhaps enjoying a slice of my Aunt Kitty’s chocolate torte cake. In recent years a gaggle of children is usually found playing games like hide and go seek, coloring or watching “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” And my Mom? She is in the kitchen putting together her turkey soup, shepherd’s pie and piling hunks of roasted turkey onto plates for turkey sandwiches—creating the sustenance for a weekend of family gatherings.
Getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner at our own house this year, nailing down Mom’s soup was a critical task at hand, it being one our favorite leftovers. With visions of steaming bowls of hearty soup in our heads, we began researching different kinds of leftover turkey soup recipes before sitting down for a chat with the master. We found a slew of unique recipes, including an Asian turkey soup with Bok Choy made with glass noodles. And while the diversity was enticing, tradition was what we were looking for so we narrowed our search.
Most “traditional” leftover turkey recipes, we found, used little outside of turkey meat and gravy from the Thanksgiving table. Some added cranberries, others egg noodles, but the concept of tossing in stuffing or mashed potatoes was largely absent from a majority of the recipes—hence my husband’s skepticism about their inclusion in my mother’s soup.
“I just don’t know,” he said.
“We’ll see,” I said again, as we reached for the phone to call the only one who would really have the answer for us.
“You want to put a nice handful or two of stuffing into the stock pot in the beginning,” clarified Mom. “It adds a lot of flavor.”
The mashed potatoes, added later, she continued, add a starch to naturally thicken the soup.
Using the original Thanksgiving carcass, leftover gravy and my Grandma Kernell’s carrots, sautéed in butter, and a little nutmeg and brown sugar, were also critical components, added Mom.
“I wish I took some time to write this all down,” she lamented.
But like many great cooks before her, the most important family recipes are those learned through trial and error, and most importantly, repetition. And it’s not bad to start with your mom by your side, and perhaps a nice glass of wine.
Mary Graves’ (Mom) Turkey Soup
Picked over turkey carcass meat
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 onion, diced
6 cups chicken broth or turkey broth
1 ½ cups sautéed carrots, in butter, nutmeg and brown sugar
2 cups leftover gravy
1 ½ cups leftover stuffing
1 cup mashed potatoes
Handful of parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup frozen sweet corn
Salt & pepper to taste
Sauté onions and celery in large, deep pot until onions are slightly golden brown. Add garlic, and sauté for two more minutes. Place the turkey carcass and turkey meat into the pot and add sautéed carrots, chicken broth, stuffing, bay leaves and gravy. Pour additional water into the pot if needed to cover. Bring to boil over medium high heat and reduce to a simmer for one and a half hours. While simmering, remove any foam and discard. Remove carcass, season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Add frozen peas and corn, simmer for two more minutes, season again to taste and serve, topped with a mince of parsley.