With Thanksgiving nearly here, there are so many things to think about. I usually have a good-sized crowd of family and friends at the table on that day. I love it. The whole harvest concept and sharing and working together with others for a common purpose is just so gratifying. It’s a time when we gather and share our blessings and recognize, yet again, how much we appreciate each other. We tally our fortunes in each other as we prepare for another New England winter. We strategize. We feast. We catch up.We linger. We enjoy just being able to be together.
A lot of memories get remembered and a lot of stories are told, sometimes annually, a little sweeter each time. We reminisce about those that cannot be there for whatever reason. Anecdotes are rampant. Family traditions are revisited in detail. Legends are born.
Our menu usually goes something like this:
While folks arrive and settle in, greet each other and warm up with Fresh Fruit, wine, cider hot and cold, cranberry juice, various nibbles…
Then the feast:
Smoked Turkey or Ham
Corn Bread, Sausage and Apple Stuffing (a version of Dad’s recipe)
Mashed Potatoes (Dad’s recipe, don’t spare the cream and butter)
Baked Winter Squash with a touch of nutmeg
Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup because the one year I didn’t, Uncle Herb never let me live it down…
Apple wine and herb Gravy
Green Beans with Onions, Almonds and Bacon
Baby Onions and Mushrooms with Cheddar Cheese Sauce, for Aunt Jean especially
Carrots with Ginger, Honey and Orange Glaze
Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce, in honor of my late Grandfather who wouldn’t eat any other kind
Canned Cranberry Sauce for my son Liam who prefers that type
Homemade Apple Sauce, for my son Gabriel, even though he now lives too far away to come home for Thanksgiving
Anadama Rolls and Honey Butter
2 or 3 nut and fruit breads, carrot, pumpkin, banana…with cream cheese
Various pickles and Relishes, reminders of summer gone by
Sometimes, some interesting salads
Then An Assortment of Pies, Ice Cream and Coffee
One of these years I hope to find time to make Indian Pudding in honor of my late Grandmother, with Hard Sauce of course
All savored over several hours, making room for just a little bit more…I usually make the main meal, with Dad’s prep help
Everyone else pitches in on desserts, h’orsdeuvres and drinks, and whatever else seems like a good idea to bring at the time. Even though the menu does not deviate a lot from one year to the next, it’s rather comforting to know we can count on certain favorites. Everything is made with love so it just naturally tastes better and better.
A lot of preparation goes into getting ready for the special day. We begin gathering about noon and the plan is to be at the table by 1pm. I take the day before Thanksgiving off each year, to begin food preparation that can be done ahead of time. I am very fortunate that my parents moved nearby 4 years ago and ever since then, my Dad comes over the day before Thanksgiving to give me a hand getting things underway. Dad is a retired chef and he insists on very sharp knives. I usually drop mine off at his house a week or so before the event and he sharpens them up and brings them back when he comes to help out.
It’s important they meet his specs as he is the one that does the majority of the slicing and dicing. His hands are much stronger than mine and I just keep pushing piles of veggies in front of him to slice into shape. It’s so nice to say, “I need 20 pounds of potatoes cut into 11/2 inch cubes” and to look over a few minutes later and see them all done perfectly. Or, “Please mince 6 onions, fine”, or “Please slice all the carrots diagonally, every ½ inch”, and not have to give it another thought. Meanwhile, I am stirring and mixing and we are conferring on seasonings and comparing stuffing and glaze recipes.
It’s wonderful quality time. For me, it doesn’t even seem like work when we are sharing the job. He must not mind too much because he comes back every year! And if I’m late dropping off the knives, he’ll say, :If you want your knives sharpened before Thanksgiving, better drop them off soon!” “What time do you want me to come by on Wednesday?”
There’s always an extra chair or two for last-minute folks who need a place to eat on this special day. And what’s especially nice is that after a marathon cooking effort, there are enough leftovers for a least a week. I have a whole collection of ‘After Thanksgiving recipes’. Packets of turkey, gravy and stuffing get frozen up in meal-sized portions to enjoy later on. Turkey soup, stir fry and casserole variations figure strongly in meals over the next few weeks. Turkey sandwiches, tacos and stews also appear. It’s all good.