Thanksgiving 101

Ah, Thanksgiving, a day devoted to a great meal shared with family and friends.   It is by far my favorite holiday, with the gorgeous color leaves outside, crisp autumn air, parades and football, a wonderful meal shared with people I love and the anticipation of the holiday season ahead.  Well, that is what it is now.

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But, years ago Thanksgiving was the source of much anxiety, as my then new husband and I struggled to come to agreement on the menu that would appease both my family and his. Is there anyone out there that has not had The Great Stuffing Debate?   What kind of stuffing (or dressing) white bread or cornbread, mushrooms or oysters, celery or leeks, or some other dilemma? Can we have broccoli instead of green beans? Then there are the Cranberry Wars – jellied versus whole fruit. Be prepared to deal with the angst if you mess with dessert, although we often did.

My family from the South used cornbread, and his mother born in New Jersey used white bread. Personally, I don’t like the cornbread version, so that was an easy compromise for me.   I also hate celery, and my mother-in-law just had to get used to that, but we made it work. I found the perfect stuffing everyone could agree on in a 1995 Bon Appetit magazine – Sourdough Stuffing with Bacon, Mushrooms and Leeks – and have served it for years now. Here’s a link to the recipe –

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My mother and I loved to cook together, and often used the pages of a food magazine to inspire us to create other side dishes and desserts. She and I laughed every year about an article we read where the author was whining about having to cook this huge holiday meal on four burners and one oven! Whaaaatt, you mean like the rest of us?!! There have been some memorable stories of holiday disasters, like the year my mother put all the potato peelings down the disposal at once and stopped up the sink in the middle of dinner preparation. A frantic call, and a big plumber’s bill were our entertainment for the day. We made different vegetable dishes and frequently did something different for dessert. One year it was Pumpkin Crème Brulee, another was Pumpkin Roll Cake with Carmel Sauce and a Toffee Filling out of Bon Appetit magazine – yum!! Here’s a link for the Pumpkin Roll Cake recipe –

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There was another Thanksgiving many years ago at my mother’s house where she couldn’t get everyone to the table because dinner was ready too early. It was still second quarter of the game and it was before anyone had a VCR. She got madder and the turkey got colder while the rest of us were yelling at the TV. The issue was solved with some aluminum foil, a 200-degree oven, and opening the wine.

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Then there was the holiday where I had done the shopping about a week before. I had a comprehensive list and got everything but the required jellied cranberry sauce because the shelf was empty. It just isn’t Thanksgiving unless that lump of jellied sauce is on my grandmother’s Depression glass cranberry dish with the indentations from the can showing. I forgot about it until that morning and became frantic!! The stores were closing in less than half an hour when I realized I didn’t have it. My husband barely made it in time and luckily there were cans on the shelf. Whew!! Crisis averted.

I also enjoy reading other people’s stories on the holiday. One particularly memorable story I read years ago concerned another young wife wanting to impress her in-laws with her gravy. She wanted it absolutely lump free, but was having trouble getting it that way. In a moment of inspiration, she grabbed the strainer to strain out the lumps. You can see this coming, can’t you?   Yep, she put the strainer in the sink, and poured the gravy through it and down the drain.

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Now, to the foodie book on Thanksgiving. This book is a small, paperback volume that is packed full of stories and tips on this most American (and Canadian!) holiday. There are lots of choices on how to cook a turkey, suggestions on stuffings and dressings, inventive side dishes, soups, appetizers, breads and desserts. You will find basic directions on a perfect pumpkin pie as well as a recipe for the aforementioned Pumpkin Crème Brulee, or to really mix it up, Cranberry Cheesecake.  There is something here for both the beginner cook and experienced foodie.  Get your copy with my Amazon link.

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Want to try something a little different for the holiday? How about Turkey Breast Roulade with Wild Mushroom Stuffing and Marsala Sauce? Here’s a link to the recipe from the Thanksgiving 101 book –

Here’s hoping your holiday is stress free, full of love and laughter, shared with family and friends.

11 thoughts on “Thanksgiving 101

  1. Margaret

    Our great debate is stuffing or dressing. My mil makes stuffing. I hate the idea of bread in a bird! So now she makes both out of stove top and her own recipe. Great story!!

  2. Connie Stewart

    I have been celebrating Thanksgiving with my husbands family for many years. We always have their traditional meal which includes a Polish dish of mushrooms, onions, and sour cream, in addition to the gravy. My SIL does make a great stuffing with hamburger in the dried bread. But 2 years ago I looked at them over the table as we were eating and I said my family had traditions too. The looked at me with open mouths. So now we eat pie before dinner( you are too full after) and why eat breakfast or lunch, and have real cranberries. I am working on giblets and hard boiled eggs in the gravy, but not getting far. Connie in Austin, Texas

  3. I think your judge would like to hear how the turkey fell on the floor and no one realized it until the dog had finished it up. That luckily hasn’t happened but one year we were baking the cookies and had one pan in the oven and the rest on the table ready to be put in. We came back out and the old dog who was barely able to walk anymore had licked the trays clean. Don’t know if he jumped on a chair or just stood up. I have also had 2 friends in different years that had their ovens break half way through the baking. When they went out to take the turkey out, it was still raw. So they ate all the trimmings while the rest was cut up and microwaved.

  4. rosemarazzle

    Rosemary B here:
    when I was a kid, we just moved to the US so we did not even know what Thanksgiving was.
    We always celebrated by having Beef Fondue and pan fried potatoes and beans.

    I am not sure when we started making turkey, maybe when my sister got married and we had Thanksgiving at her house.

  5. lynda h

    I will never forget the fact that my mother would always cook a “small ham” to go with the turkey dinner (something she never did as I was growing up) just for my husband who “preferred ham” to turkey. Mind you, we lived in AK at the time and there were only the four of us but we still had a 15 lb turkey and a small ham!

  6. Oh the family drama that holidays bring out!!! Every year there’s a 40 minute debate between my MIL and FIL on whether the turkey is done yet…. so every year the turkey is about an hour overcooked! 😀 But a healthy scoop of mashed potatoes covers a world of sins – including the watery, lumpy gravy. 😀

  7. Our families are southern, so we don’t have the dressing issue. But when it comes to the meat most like ham, but I’m a turkey person. That makes gravy and dressing much better. But the funny thing is this green jello salad. I love it, the kids always called it vomit salad. Now that they are grown I tried to omit the “lime spring salad” because of the remarks from past, that is the first thing that gets listed on the menu by my daughter. Traditions and growing up are always a life lessons.

  8. manasotavacation

    I think one of the most “different” Thanksgivings for me (a traditionalist) was when I went to a friend’s family Thanksgiving a few years back. It was a large, warm, friendly family so all was well, but my eyes were opened wide to different traditions when the grandmother, who was to supply the cranberry sauce, walked in w/ 2 cans and handed them to the hostess. Then when the meal was served with loads and loads of goodies on a buffet table there were paper plates and plastic utensils. I could hear my mother spinning in her grave. There was a HUGE garbage can with a yard size bag in it in the kitchen where guests put the plates and utensils after the meal. Honestly, I think that I’d buy a bunch of dishes at Goodwill and some utensils and let people throw them out rather than serve on paper for a holiday….and the cost would be about the same!! I know, I know….but I’m old and traditional and having utensils that can break and a plate that is paper just doesn’t scream holiday to me.

  9. Ccoop

    My favorite memories of Thanksgiving come from when my Mom was alive and she would cook dinner for 12 of us. Now days it’s just my husband, me and our daughter. Although I love to cook dinner for the 3 of us, it’s so quiet. I miss the chaos of everyone meeting at my Mom’s house.

  10. Before our move, we hosted Thanksgiving at our house every year. I loved the chaos of family and am fond of the memories of my girls running out in the cold in their jammies to help their granmas carry all the pies in from her car!! Loved playing games all day and being surrounded by family all day. I admittably don’t cook…but am one heck of a cleaner upper!! (Oh and I loved setting the table)

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