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Nontraditional Thanksgiving Traditions: Leftovers


For the past couple of days, I've been sharing some listeners' nontraditional Thanksgiving traditions with you. We've heard about baseball played with gourds, about silly family poetry and a game called Pass the Spoon, where each person around the table adds food to a spoon, and the first person to let a piece of food fall eats the whole shebang.

Finally, today, we have a couple of post-Thanksgiving traditions. Linda Shirley Reed of Columbia, South Carolina invites friends and family to a leftovers party the Saturday after.

Ms. LINDA SHIRLEY REED: Anybody can bring their leftovers, whatever they want to get rid of, and we've had a very good year this year. So my husband and I are going to make a trip to Charleston, where they have the world's best oysters, and we're going to have a little oyster roast.

BLOCK: Now what is this party - this weekend party called?

Ms. REED: The ABT party, anything but turkey.

BLOCK: So no turkey allowed.

Ms. REED: Well, in a casserole maybe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Almost anything but turkey.

Ms. REED: Almost anything, almost anything.

BLOCK: And are there any leftovers of the leftovers when you're all done?

Ms. REED: No, that's the beauty of it. It's all gone.

Mr. BRIAN MERRELL: My name is Brian Merrell. I live in Lee's Summit, Missouri, and my family tradition is to make lebkuchen cookies on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

BLOCK: That's a German cookie, kind of gingerbread cookies, decorated with frosting. Brian's in-laws got the recipe while living in Germany in the late 1950s.

Mr. MERRELL: It's flower, sugar, hazelnuts and eggs and orange and lemon peel, and of course, special spices. And the best thing is, that my kids like to make fun of, is the special water that my mother-in-law uses. And she always - is always very careful to keep that in a brown paper sack. And we always refer to it as the special water.

It's actually rum. Of course, no one says the R-word because when the kids were young, we just - she was a little uneasy about letting them know that we use rum in the cookies and the frosting.

BLOCK: So lebkuchen have become Saturday-after Thanksgiving tradition. What happens?

Mr. MERRELL: It was a tradition that my in-laws brought back from Germany with them, and they made them on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, starting about 1960. When I met my wife in high school, I got involved and as it turns out, there were six grandkids all born in about a five-year period of time, between my wife and her two siblings, and we all live in the Kansas City area. So the tradition of making cookies has become quite a big tradition and quite a big mess.

So about 20 years ago, we moved production to my two-car garage, and I have an extra stove we put down there. And we make cookies all day on Saturday. And we make anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 cookies all in one day in my garage.

BLOCK: Wow. What kind of mixer are you using to mix up all that dough?

Mr. MERRELL: Well, that's part of the fun. It's all mixed by hand. Of course, years ago, the adults used to do the mixing and all the kids were running around doing just the fun stuff. But as the kids have gotten older, and they always bring friends with them, now they do the hard work. There's about 35 pounds of flour mixed up with 20 pounds of sugar and 15 pounds of hazelnuts and eggs. That's all mixed by hand.

BLOCK: Wow. Somebody's got some strong biceps in there.

Mr. MERRELL: Oh yes, indeed, and we've broken quite a few wood spoons through the years doing the mixing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Kind of pick out the little pieces.

Mr. MERRELL: Oh, you betcha. That's part of it also is we have to crack 15 pounds of hazelnuts first thing in the morning. So I have all the kids sit around on carpet on the floor cracking nuts. Some of the adults go through the nuts to pick out all the little pieces of the shells.

BLOCK: And what happens to all those cookies?

Mr. MERRELL: We collect tins throughout the year, and we donate them, we give them away as Christmas gifts, to friends, we donate them to shelters. There were a number of years, when the kids were smaller, we took them to a local care center and passed out cookies to the old folks who lived there.

BLOCK: Now, I'm thinking your whole neighborhood must just smell fantastic on Saturday.

Mr. MERRELL: Well, it does, and we've had quite a few neighbor kids join us, and of course, my garage smells like cookies, too, for several days after we hose it out and close down shop on Saturday.

BLOCK: Sounds great. Well, listen, thank you.

Mr. MERRELL: Well, thank you for calling, and thank you for allowing me to share my tradition with you.

BLOCK: Brian Merrell of Lee's Summit, Missouri with his family's sweet tradition for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And you can find the full recipe for his family's lebkuchen at our Web site, where you can also find a lot more listeners' tales of unusual traditions. Those are at npr.org. Thanks to all of you for sending us your stories for the Thanksgiving holiday. We've had a lot of fun reading them and talking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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