Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Remembering Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving, I really do. And not in the way of so many modern folks, where the word of the day is stuffing, and not just the sage and chestnut variety in Tom Turkey, but also all those Black Friday bags, filled to bursting with sales and stress. 

No, as a child of the 1970s, Thanksgiving is a much richer cornucopia of memory for me. In a time where it seems like society was far less wary, and I daresay, also much more joyful, I remember childhood pageants and wearing gray and white Pilgrim hats made of construction paper. I remember turkeys traced carefully around an outstretched hand onto paper...if you haven't ever done this, it's fun to try...it's amazing how much an outline of a hand can resemble a bird in full feather. Of course, I remember the table laden with steaming deliciousness, the cranberries glowing like rubies, the fancy relish trays and salads and golden breads, the mounds of mashed potatoes just begging for gravy, the turkey coming out of the oven with such pride and excitement, and the intoxicating perfumes of cinnamon and pecans filling the air with the promise of pie. The sense that this was not just food, not just a meal, but a feast, coupled with the clamor to fit all that abundance on a table set with its very best linens and finest china only seen once a year...all of this was the very sparkling essence of 'holiday', too dazzling for such a cheap thing as 'hype.' 

I know it might sound sappy, but I remember people saying grace much more than I remember anyone yelling at a football screen. Maybe that's just the kind of home I came from, but I kind of think that might have been a similar experience for most of my generation. We ate and ate some more...and just when the leftovers were tucked into Tupperware, unbelievably we'd circle around for a turkey sandwich with a scoop of cranberries, and of course, the best part, cold stuffing.

I have always been a nervous hostess, and so the way I have conquered that is to do as much ahead as possible. To my delight, over the years, I have learned that most Thanksgiving dishes can be made ahead and lose no quality in the freezer. So I leisurely make that stuffing, stir up that gravy, mash those potatoes, bake that bread, even roast the turkey and finish the pies...and store them all in the freezer. I often will do a dish a day or so, but it is so much easier than trying to cram everything in on the holiday itself.  Just a slight note of caution: I make gravy from scratch, and do find that it requires a bit of extra stirring/whisking to get it smooth again after freezing, but it does turn out fine. And there are many freezer mashed potato recipes online, so give them a whirl. Often, they have extra ingredients, like cream cheese, to keep them freezer-safe, but honestly, I have just frozen plain mashed potatoes, reheated them again, and no one has been the wiser. They may need to be stirred a bit when heated through, but that is all.

I set a formal table the night before or the day of the holiday. This is quite a task in itself, because our home is so small that our tiny gate-leg table needs to be taken out and expanded to its full size in the parlor in order to truly accommodate the dinner. (And the formal aspect of the parlor is a nice setting...a plus, in my opinion.) I also set out my serving bowls with utensils, which will be used for side-dishes, so I can see how everything will look on the table, and if it will be aesthetically pleasing.  (This picture was taken from last year's celebration.)

I take out my frozen delights (stored and wrapped in my casserole dishes) the night before and keep them refrigerated. My 'cooking' on Thanksgiving consists of mostly thawing and heating food back up. A platter of sliced up turkey reheats beautifully in a microwave, while my squash or sweet potato dish, mashed potatoes, and stuffing go into a medium oven (about 325 degrees) for 30 minutes. Cranberries,a premade relish plate and a salad or two are finishing touches. I like to cook, but I don't like high pressure, so to me this leisurely way to prepare the feast really helps me to savor this time of year and--believe it or not--relax on the big day, just like my guests. It feels much more elegant to me and I feel so much more composed.

It surely is not how the Pilgrims did it, but it certainly works for us.

I hope you have a Thanksgiving brimming with abundance, but most of all, in these troubled, often frenetic times, gratitude. The magic of this holiday is the determination to discern the blessing in life, underneath the difficulty. I am raising up my glass of sparkling cider to you all.  



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