Four generations share Thanksgiving kitchen

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 27, 2008

NATCHEZ — In a small kitchen, without double ovens, convection ranges or granite counter tops, Helen Petermann is busy preparing all the fixings for the family Thanksgiving dinner.

The 89-year-old great-grandmother has years of experience preparing the meal for her family, and doesn’t see any reason why she should stop now.

“I’m just so used to doing it, that I just go in and do it,” Petermann said.

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In recent years, the family has gotten too large to continue eating at Petermann’s home, but Petermann’s granddaughter Anna Devening said even a change in venue couldn’t stop her grandmother from heading to the kitchen.

“It has gotten too large and had to move to my sister’s house,” Devening said. “(Petermann) still does most of the cooking.

“I don’t know how she does it in this small of a space but she does.”

She has yielded very little control over the years, but she does take help in preparing the turkey and some sweets.

“My uncle John will do the turkey,” Devening said. “And others will chip in and bring desserts and a few other things.

“But anything that we cook, we always use her recipes.”

This year 28 people will pull up a chair for the dinner on which Petermann has put her tasty touch

“She sometimes will start two weeks out making casseroles,” Petermann’s daughter Carol Jones said. “She will freeze them beforehand and bring them out for the meal.”

But cooking for a large group is nothing new for Petermann since she was the oldest of 12 children growing up in New Orleans.

“She’s used to cooking for a crowd,” Devening said.

The table will be bulging with turkey and the trimmings, but it is the faces gathered around the table for which Petermann said she is thankful.

“The Lord has blessed me to have great-grandchildren,” she said. “It is always a blessing to have us all get together.”

Devening also knows her family is lucky to have four generations still gathering for Thanksgiving.

“It’s nice that most of our family is here,” Devening said. “Not everyone has this much family that lives this close.”

Petermann, knowing that the day will come when she will have to give up cooking duty, is making use of the family gatherings to pass on her kitchen knowledge. She takes the time to teach her recipes and techniques to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I told them that they need to start learning because I won’t always be able to do it,” Petermann said. “And they want to learn.”

To help carry on the tradition of great food, Devening, with the help of her sister, has typed and preserved many of her grandmother’s favorite recipes.

“She has a small spiral bound notebook that is full of her recipes that we wanted to preserve,” Devening said. “Now we have our own copies, but it isn’t the same as when she cooks it.”

But teaching isn’t as simple as passing on the recipe, since many of Petermann’s recipes aren’t committed to paper.

“A lot of (my cooking) is a little of this and a little of that,” she said.

One dish in particular is a favorite of great-granddaughters Mollie and Kimble Devening — the rice and gravy.

“They always have to have my rice and gravy,” Peterman said.

The 13-year-old twins, with the help of their mother, are trying hard to master the dish.

“We aren’t quite there yet,” Devening said.

But there is more time to learn with Christmas approaching.

“(Christmas) will be almost identical,” Jones said. “But with even more food and even more people.”