For all the joy of Thanksgiving, organising the day can be a challenge. We always struggle to get more people round the table, we worry about how to feed the very young at the same time as the very old and then there is always the problem of Dad, who’s planned an individual display of cooking bravura, but can he possibly be persuaded to share the workload?
The hottest issue is invites: If only Mrs WDC could invite all the people she would like – but we would need a church hall to accommodate them all, not to mention a few more turkeys.
We’ve tried every which way to improve the Thanksgiving format… We’ve experimented with standing buffets (fun, but strange); tried cooking the turkey the day before and serving it cold (got the cold shoulder); converted sideboards into serving stations (dangerous); plated food on wallpaper tables (nightmare); enlisted the barbecue as a second oven to roast potatoes (not to be advised) and we even tried putting plates in buckets of hot water to keep them warm (result – cold wet plates).
But over the years we’ve found a good working formula where people are comfortable at the table and can enjoy their food. And after all, the food is Thanksgiving’s main event. Especially the turkey. Having roasted every grade of turkey, including deluxe Bronze varieties, I’ve now settled on good value free range turkeys, such as those that can be found at Bramble Farm in West Horsley – you need to order in advance and then pick-up at the farm. On my last visit to the farm, I was enlightened to learn that a Bramble Farm birds older than other commercial birds. It may reduce margins but the extra time allows natural fat to develop and helps keep the cooked turkey moist.
People may know that I have cooked a turkey many ways and also that my preferred method is to split the turkey in two – I put the sausage and herb stuffing with extra sausages on top of the dark meat and cook it in the top of the oven while the crown cooks at the bottom – judging by the comments at the table the method is a success. I always go out of my way to find turkey or poultry bits to make gravy (we drink it by the gallon!). I made cranberry sauce with kumquats, but was more excited that I could find a can of set cranberry jelly – my favourite. Carrots, Brussels tops, sweet potato and mashed potatoes made up the vegetables.
The remaining main food challenge was a ‘corn and fish’ starter. This year I combined the two ingredients in a Thai style fish cake. They were good and I even had a request for the recipe… Second in importance to the turkey is the pecan and pumpkin desserts. My sister always brings these and this year she arrived with a pecan strusel coffee cake, a crunchy pecan and pumpkin torte and thanksgiving trifles – all hit the mark.
Apart from food, Thanksgiving is about family and friends. This year we had a good mix of young and old: there were kiddies playing at our feet, respectful senior family members telling thanksgiving and family stories, lively and cheerful girlfriends, hardworking and helping boyfriends and chatty and enthusiastic family friends. There were nephews and nieces and aunts and uncles (even a great-uncle) and grandchildren and grandparents.
Thanksgiving may have lost its deeper meanings of independence and fortitude, but the traditions of sharing and the spirit of family togetherness certainly live on at WDC.