Being that Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us, I’ve been reflecting on past memories and celebrations that I’ve particularly enjoyed.
My earliest memories are of getting up and finding my mother and grandmother had already been up and busy in the kitchen for hours, chopping the celery and onions, drying the bread cubes for stuffing, then stuffing the turkey and putting it on to roast at about the time I was getting out of bed. My mother made sure we had a glass of orange juice and at least a bowl of cereal before sending us into the living room to watch the Macy’s parade on TV so as to stay out from underfoot while the rest of the dinner preparations went forward.
The stuffing was, and still is, my favorite part of the meal. My mother would make an extra pan of stuffing, and what I liked was the next day when the leftover stuffing was reheated with a bit of butter dotted on top and it came out crispy and even more flavorful than the day before. But I was angry when I was five years old and my older sister was allowed to eat stuffing for breakfast the next day and I wasn’t. I grumbled while I ate my oatmeal and promised myself that when I grew up and prepared my own Thanksgiving dinners, I would have stuffing for breakfast the day after every one of them, and I always have!
One year our family decided to have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant rather than at home, but we really didn’t enjoy it that much; we all missed dinner at home, even my mother and grandmother, who were taking a break that year, so we didn’t do that again.
The next Thanksgiving we spent away from home was the year after my grandmother passed away; the family of one of my good junior high school friends kindly invited my mother and I to Thanksgiving dinner at their home that next autumn. They had numerous extended family members and friends visiting, and everyone brought something wonderful to share. My mother made her excellent Waldorf salad, with apples, celery, grapes, raisins and walnuts. Because there were so many interesting dishes to try I truly overate and felt rather ill after my third trip to the buffet, but it was all just so good!
Then there was the year my sister was first married; since it was her first time cooking such a large dinner she felt a bit harried, but everything was wonderful. I felt very proud of her for being able to prepare such a great Thanksgiving meal, and vowed to myself I would do the same one day!
After I married and left my home state we returned for as many Thanksgivings as we could, but one year no one in my husband’s Navy unit was able to get leave to go home. So the men decided they would get together and cook Thanksgiving dinner for the wives, and we weren’t to help in any way. It was great fun to sit comfortably watching the husbands scurrying about preparing the meal! We wives were prepared to be gracious no matter how the meal turned out, but we were very pleasantly surprised at the results; everything was truly very good, especially a sweet potato cobbler with marshmallows prepared by one of the men from the South!
One year when I shared a townhouse with two other girls, one of my roommates went home for Thanksgiving, but my other roommate and I couldn’t get away. That year we invited everyone we knew who might be alone for Thanksgiving; everyone brought something and it was truly a meal to remember! It was a very warm day for November and after dinner we made ourselves get out and take a long walk, so the fifteen of us spent the rest of that enjoyable afternoon strolling about the quiet streets nearby.
I cooked many Thanksgiving dinners over the years, to the point where it seemed I was preparing them on autopilot. When my daughter grew old enough to help me and eventually split the duties with me, we easily produced a good meal and enjoyed working companionably together. There was no major change in the menu until after 2007, when I prepared my last Thanksgiving meal using turkey.
By 2008 most of our family had become vegetarian, and this would be our first year serving a Tofurky roast. We had all truly enjoyed turkey in the past; how would this taste compared to turkey? What about the texture? Would we have to just concentrate on the side dishes and forget about a main protein course in the future? My daughter fretted about this for weeks ahead of time and scoured cookbooks and online resources for the best way to prepare it. She came up with a smoky-sweet glaze recipe for the roast, surrounded by lots of root vegetables. She worried right up until the moment one of our family members took a bite and said, “Hey, this is really good!” We’ve served this roast to vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters ever since, and everyone has had second helpings, even thirds!
Two years ago I put together a short video profiling our dinner preparations, calling it, “An Old-Fashioned Vegan Thanksgiving.” Some of my readers have seen this video before, but I have many more readers and subscribers now, so I’d like to rerun the video for those who’ve not yet seen it:
This year will be the last time my daughter and I prepare the dinner in our own home; by this time next year she will have been married for several months. Her fiance will be joining us and bringing his special corn pudding bread and roasted Brussels sprouts. My daughter will be bringing the pumpkin pie, dinner rolls and gravy from the vegan bakery where she works. I’ll still be making the candied sweet potatoes and stuffing; she’ll prepare the Tofurky roast, potatoes and green beans. Next year we may be dining together or separately, but we’ll always have great memories of some truly enjoyable Thanksgiving dinners over the years!
I wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving! If you have some special favorite memories of your own celebrations, please share!