Many of us have prepared many Thanksgiving feasts. Others are going to prepare their first ever this year. It’s a scary thing, preparing your first Thanksgiving feast, with guests arriving to eat your offering. So what are the steps?
- Plan your menu
- Assemble your recipes
- Invite your guests
- Make your shopping list
- Get everything on your shopping list home
- Assemble your tools-of-the-trade. (Pots, pans, bowls, utensils, mixers, oven, etc.)
- Decide what you will use to serve the food in terms of platters, plates, bowls, etc.
- Decide what your guests will eat off of and with, whether it’s your fine china or disposable dishes/utensils
- Decide how you will decorate your table, including centerpiece, tablecloth, etc.
- Do your schedule. What can be cooked the day before? What time do you need to start the turkey?
- Clean your refrigerator out–you will need all the room you can get
- Do your house cleaning
Okay, so your house is spotless, you’ve got everything assembled…but you worry about the menu. How do you decide?
Obviously, the turkey is a classic menu inclusion. Other traditional favorites can vary according to the family and the region too. Some of these things can include:
- macaroni and cheese
- green bean casserole
- baked beans
- fresh bread
- cranberry sauce
- pecan pie
- pumpkin pie
- sweet potato casserole
- candied sweet potatoes
- mashed potatoes and gravy
- scalloped potatoes
- Waldorf salad
- fruit salad
- rice pilaf
- corn pudding
- cranberry sauce
- peas with pearl onions
- broccoli or cauliflower with cheese sauce
- rum cake
- chess pie
- marlborough pie
- custard pie
and the list goes on and on, all influenced by past favorites and new recipes, as well as your family, region, and cultural background. Nobody can make it all and please everyone, there is always SOMEONE who is never happy because you didn’t make Aunt Agnes’ special recipe or you didn’t do it exactly like Grandmother always did…but that’s the way it goes. Each Thanksgiving feast we prepare is a little bit different, and it’s another opportunity to present something that just might become a “tradition” for coming years.
One of our traditions is just like that, and the result of an oversight on the part of my mother. When I was a child, holiday dinners were elaborate affairs. There were fancy relish trays, our best china, and an incredible amount of stress to measure up. We dressed up, and my mother would have been slaving in the kitchen for days. The actual preparations would have started months before, as she made strange fancy pickles for later appearance on those relish trays.
One of these dinners, it was almost time for everything to be carried to the table for this fancy presentation when she realized that she had forgotten the cranberry sauce. The berries still languished in the refrigerator, as raw as they were when they came from the store. There was little time, and they were plopped into the saucepan and put on a burner to be quickly cooked. The hot berries, in their syrupy sauce, were poured into a serving bowl and carried to the table with the other food. None of the guests realized it was an accident, instead believing she had done it on purpose, and they were even more delicious with the turkey and fresh hot bread than served cold. A tradition was born, and decades later, when my own daughter was at another relative’s house for dinner and we were served cold canned cranberries, she was shocked. She had never been served canned cranberries at all, let alone COLD with the turkey the first time! (Yes, we had to hush her before she hurt someone’s feelings…young children are not known for their subtle statements.)
Today, few families are that formal and elaborate with their feast as we were in the past, and that allows us all to relax and enjoy it more. Some families serve buffet style, others stick to the table presentation, and it doesn’t matter. Good food, good company, and fun are more important.
Even the turkey can be varied. I’ve served cornish game hens, duck, and even chicken. I’ve stuck to just a turkey breast, and on some solitary holidays, I’ll confess…the dog and I had turkey burgers.
The entire point of the holiday, while it does usually showcase a cook’s skills, is to be thankful for what we have, the people we love, and the fact we can be together, even if it is just together on the telephone. (I’ve done that a time or two too.) This year, we’re doing a dinner for people who can’t make it home for the holidays, to spare them the solitary turkey burger experience and create a pseudo family dinner for them. We are even serving it in a park, with plenty of room. My turkey won’t be golden brown, but it will be tender and juicy (it’s being cooked in an electric roaster oven.) Many of the dishes will be prepared over an oak fire or a camp stove. I’m hoping it’s not raining too–we all know how often pouring rain can bless us here on the Gulf Coast.
My daughter is less-than-happy that I won’t be joining her that day for dinner, and probably is a bit confused as to why I would go to all of this work for strangers. It seems so simple to me–I’m paying forward debts of kindness that I will never repay. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know most of the guests. It doesn’t matter that I’m doing it “the hard way.” It’s a way to share, and truly express the thankfulness I have for what I do have.
Oh, and I’m not doing it alone. It would probably kill me to struggle and do this alone. I’ll have my GM helping me, along with some other friends to help with everything from chopping to stirring. A lot of the prep will be done ahead. The desserts and bread will be cooked the day before. Vegetable chopped, even sweet potatoes will be peeled and cut up long before we head to the park where we’ll be doing the dinner.
I’m really thankful we drive a van…and have a trailer hitch! We might need the extra room!