I have never prepared a Thanksgiving dinner, never roasted a turkey, never worried about getting the skin crisp, the breast moist and the giblet dressing just right. It’s not that I’m lazy or unable to assemble enough family and friends around a table to convene a holiday meal. Rather, I realized that my youthful Thanksgivings past were perfection, and I should not attempt to duplicate them.
Indeed, whenever I’m asked what I would like to have as my last meal, I’m wont to reply: my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner. The holiday is one of my favorites, as it signals the beginning of the winter season, which offers all of the at-home entertaining with conviviality and cooking that I adore.
My family was an oh-so-nuclear family of mommy, daddy and baby, but from my midteens, after the death of my maternal grandmother, the family matriarch, until I was well into my 30s, my house was holiday central. Preparations began weeks ahead as my mother ordered a freshly killed turkey from the neighborhood butcher. (No frozen Butterball for her, even back in the 1970s.)
The days leading up to the holiday were a time for preparation, especially baking, and the kitchen would be enveloped in the cinnamon-and-nutmeg aroma of sweet potato pie and the dense potpourri of the old-fashioned mincemeat one that I looked forward to each year.
Thanksgiving Day was always an up-at-dawn deal. First, there was the stuffing to be made: a celery- and onion-dotted stale-bread dressing into which cornmeal was added. It was stuffed into the bird’s back and neck cavities, and cooked in the bird. There was none of this Pyrex-dish-to-avoid-cross-contamination nonsense. Mom knew how to cook, was a trained dietitian and knew about appropriate temperatures; no one got sick!
It was my job to set the table. The banquet cloth of embroidered linen went down, and the Sunday-best china came out of the breakfront, as did the real sterling and the crystal wine goblets; after I attained drinking age, I delighted in assembling an array of them. There were the relish dishes to compose of hearts of celery and carrot sticks and supercolossal olives, both black and pimento-stuffed. The cranberry sauce was wriggled out of the can into one of my grandmother’s cut crystal bowls that was used only once a year, for this purpose.