Thanksgiving “Pie Table”


Thanksgiving 2013 is 18 days away from today, Sunday, November 10. Based on my own family experiences, I would imagine a lot of people have already begun the planning and preparation for Thanksgiving dinner.

Growing up, my mother and her sister tended to have a bit of a rivalry. One of the ways it would manifest is the holiday season. We always had Thanksgiving dinner at our house for our family, Aunt Pat and her children, and my grandmother and great-aunt then Christmas Eve dinner for the same crew would be at Aunt Pat’s. Consequently, the preparations for Thanksgiving would begin at least a couple of weeks ahead of time by making sure all the good china was cleaned and the silver was polished and ready to go. Mom had various cleaning ladies over the years who would come in once a week to do the basic cleaning chores but I always knew that I was going to be doing cleaning in the week or so prior to the holiday.

Planning the meal itself was not that difficult as the menu did not vary too much from year to year. There would be the turkey of course, turkey gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, green beans, creamed peas, scalloped oysters, and icebox dinner rolls. The main planning was the timing for when the various dishes would be prepared and ready to go. For example, we kids would be tasked to make the cranberry relish on Wednesday night.

After my sister was divorced, she was “adopted” by a family in Derry, NH and would spend Thanksgiving with them. When I got out of the USAF, I also joined them for the holiday. The picture above is from one Thanksgiving in the late ’80s. It was a typical year where there were twelve pies to be shared among 10 to 12 adults and 6 to 8 children. Of course, the planning had to include who was going to bake which pies. I think this particular year my sister made mocha-pecan (decadently rich) and pumpkin pies. There were also a couple of other pecan pies, a couple of apple pies as well although I don’t remember all the other pie types.

As with many families, there were always stories from earlier Thanksgivings where things might not have gone quite so well. Like the year when Judi, the mother of this family, and my sister sampled the wine as they were doing the cooking through the morning and afternoon. They were both well on the way to completing the cooking and having a bit too much to drink when they discovered the turkey had never been put in the oven. The meal that year occurred in two phases with the actual bird being eaten a bit later in the evening than anticipated.

The turkey preparation is obviously one of the major components of Thanksgiving. Do you get a fresh turkey or frozen? If frozen, how much lead time do you give yourself to let the turkey defrost? Are you going to bake the turkey in the oven or will you deep fry it? I will say that the one time I had a deep fried turkey it was about the moistest and best tasting I have ever had. This was the Thanksgiving I spent with a first cousin in Albany, GA (I was living in Montgomery, AL at the time – the picture of me with the cockatiel on my head is from this Thanksgiving.)

My first Thanksgiving when I was stationed in Hawai’i, a friend was house-sitting a beautiful home in Aiea, well up the side of the mountain. That was the first year I was drafted to carve the bird, a task I have been given a few more times over the years. One of the preparation tasks is to assure your knives are sharp and ready to go so that you may have those nice, clean slices of dark and light meat like in the pictures. Otherwise, the carver may get a bit frustrated trying to carve the turkey and make it look pretty and winding up with a lot more scrap pieces than nice, clean slices.

Have you started your Thanksgiving preparations yet? What are some of your tasks that you get done ahead of time? Which dishes do you prepare first?