We have come a long way since the year 1621, when Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New World. Writings recount a three-day feast and sharing the table with Native Americans who populated the area. They were all bringing their various crops, and the recordings describe tables of wild fowl and venison served with a corn mush and stewed pumpkin.
Fast forward to today, and so many of those tried-and-true traditions continue. In my family, we carry forth our own homespun style. Thanksgiving is a celebration of heartfelt gratitude. First and foremost, it is a wonderful day when everyone is cheerfully gathered together. And, since I adore cooking, it is quite special. The menu is filled with so many delicious treats and cherished favorites, with thick, heavenly gravy drizzled over just about everything.
Like many foodies, my mailbox is filled with cooking magazines chalk-full of creative recipes offering a new twist on an old favorite. And yes, I try them. I love to experiment. However, over the years, I have come to the realization that my family does not want any of this. Forget the ratatouille casserole to replace the haricot vert (green beans) smothered in butter and dancing with slivers of almonds. Say ‘no’ to the shaved truffles delicately adorning my homemade mashed potatoes. And, a flat-out “no way Mom” was heard for miles to the mere thought of a deep-fried turkey. I am becoming a better listener. Let it be. We want it…the old-fashioned way. Authentic. And, so it shall be.
The table is set weeks ahead, and I often wonder why I did not do this years ago when I was working full-time. It just makes perfect sense. The décor is filled with acorns, pumpkins, multi-colored husks of corn, and fall leaves in hues of rich orange and earth tones. Our fancy gold-trimmed china is placed upon burgundy brocade place settings, and silk napkins are the order of this day. A bevy of glassware stand at attention, all announcing the event is near.
Thank goodness for my “count-down” list, which assures me some tiny measure of success. Two weeks out I order the free-range turkey. Then, an outing to sample wines, as we make our holiday selections. Then, shopping begins in earnest. On the Monday prior to Thanksgiving, I begin sautéing the onions, celery and cooking the sausage for the stuffing. Using a recipe written in my mother’s hand is a warm reminder of her presence with me in the kitchen. The white wine is chilled, and the red wine is stationed at the bar. The day prior is a day filled with activity–from steaming the vegetables, assembling the stuffing and baking the pies. On Thursday, we are up early to retrieve the turkey and prepare it for baking. A mountain of potatoes are waiting, and that means some quality time with my son, as we briskly peel away, chatting about everything and anything. The smell of the turkey wafting through the house has us spellbound. And, after resting, it is sliced to perfection. In recent years, I will admit to one big cheat. I have resorted to purchasing my gravy ahead of time. I would pay anything for those containers of goodness that save me a half hour I do not have. I pour the golden brown sauce into a pan and discard the plastic containers (which I call evidence).
As everyone arrives for dinner, the laughter quickly fills the room, and football chants can be heard downstairs. It is all good and wonderful to be together again. As the host, I place a stone at one person’s place setting. The stone represents the earth and harvest. This year it will be my nephew who will lead the conversation on what he is thankful for. He is a Newport Beach Police Officer, and recently announced his engagement. So, he has lots of things to share. Then, he will pass it to the next person, and, one by one, we will learn something new about each other and affirm our thankfulness on this very special day. Dinner will be proudly served.
Deirdre Michalski is a travel and culinary writer covering topics near and far. You can read more about her adventures on her website TastesAndTravel.com.