Twas the Night Before Prep Cooking

Can I have a show of hands:

  • How many of you do all your prep AND most of your cooking for Thanksgiving before Thursday, and just have to shove the turkey in the oven and make the gravy?
  • Do you (or your help - ha ha - like a child/hubby/unwitting neighbor) set the table the day before?
  • How many know how to make gravy (not from a can).
  • How many of you make your own cranberry sauce?
  • Homemade biscuits? 
  • Appetizers in the living room?
  • First course at table, or just dive straight into the mashed sweet potatoes?
  • Oh - do you sweet potatoes or yams and what's the diff?
  • Marshmallows on top (how did that even start??) or brown sugar and pecans, or just roasted with butter?
  • Dressing vs. stuffing?
  • In the bird or out?
  • Oyster dressing (You know I love oysters, but cooked with bread, etc, not for me.)
  • Fresh bird or frozen/organic or whatever
  • OMG - anyone who does NOT have turkey?? I want to hear from you iconoclasts. Such courage!


Inquiring minds want to know and this will be reviewed in an after-post.  I'm not sure if you can post photos to the comments, but alas, I still haven't figured out how to get 12,000 photos off my laptop, so Typepad still won't place nice with me. 


Growing up, Thanksgiving was a very big deal and very time-consuming prep was performed. There were rigorous standards and tasks engraved on Plymouth Rock by my mother and both grandmothers. 

I'm not going to pretend to remember them all., but tablecloths were washed and ironed, along with many napkins. Crystal stemware, compotes for shrimp cocktail, the GOOD GOOD dishes, and sterling silver flatware were pre-washed, polished, and immediately after the meal, hand washed, dried and put back in the dining room breakfront or server. 

Shrimp was fresh, raw, and were peeled and deveined, boiled with bay leaves, cooled on ice, and placed in a milk bath in the fridge overnight. Cocktail sauce was ketchup, lemon, and however much horseradish as the person making it cared to put in. 

We always had canned cranberry sauce. My mother threw us all out of the kitchen (I kid you not) when it was "time to make the gravy" from the drippings, but it was damn good. 

We did not do biscuits, except for the kind that the Pillsbury Dough Boy had us womp on the side of the sink to open the container. Trust me, the dinner rolls you had to roll up yourself were a the height of holiday gourmet. 

We had salad after the main course (as if anyone actually ate it). Between turkey and dessert was a leisurely hour of fruits, nuts, and roasted chestnuts, my favorite part of the day.  

Then a MONUMENTAL push to wash everything (no dishwasher), clean the kitchen, put out all the desserts (99% homemade cakes and pies), set up the coffee, and check the bathroom was clean for the relatives who were coming only for dessert. 

You have NO idea how much yelling, crying, and storming upstairs went on about 5:00 when the shift from dinner to dessert prep was ensuing. 5 daughters squabbling who had done what and who had to do what. Someone would always be sick or have their period. Someone would always be crying. My mother would be yelling. My grandmother and aunt would be tut tutting or trying to make peace. Someone's boyfriend would ring the bell and that daughter would excuse herself from all further menial chores. And my father would be smoking his pipe in the living room until he heard the commotion and then he got into the act, which was never, ever a good thing. 

Despite this, by the time the favorite aunts and uncles and cousins piled in the door, it looked like House Beautiful but at least one kid would be sulking in the living room and refuse to come to the table for dessert o until my father got up and "escorted them in" and my grandmother pleaded for that child to stop crying. 


But my lord, I'd give my right arm to be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at Claire Avenue right now. 

Those of you that have read me for years know that you can go to the archives and read 14 years of November and December posts in which I reminisced about all this, discussed trying to replicate the (good parts of) the holidays as a young mother in New York, or when we lived in Fresno or Memphis. 

When we finally moved back to New York, I think I hosted Thanksgiving every year in our house except one or two. 

This year, we are in an apartment in an area with congested parking. Our living room is large and we could move the dining room table into it, but once 17 people sat down, there really would be nowhere to go. My kitchen is a postage stamp galley (I swear that the dishwasher was a toy that someone electrified and plumbed). My roasting pans, Kitchen Aid, and holiday dishes are in Cape Cod. There's nowhere for the kids to sleep overnight so we can all be together on Christmas morning. There's no backyard in which to boil the lobsters.  (Actually there is, but it's three flights down and across the parking lot.) Everyone wants to go to Cape Cod until push comes to shove and who has to work, who doesn't want to drive in holiday traffic, and what sisters will be hurt that we went away. 

I feel adrift. 

I went to the make the cornbread for the stuffing and realized I don't have any baking pans. I could not fit a turkey in the apartment freezer unless it really was a cornish hen. 

And I really, really don't have my mojo back after the surgery to do it all anyway. 

So, my youngest sister took on this Thanksgiving. She is missing her oldest, who is away in Sicily, and she is keeping busy. She set her beautiful tables (yes, plural) yesterday after work.  We are all bringing dishes. I am going over tomorrow to be a sous chef. There were still be too many pies. We will miss our mother. We will worry about some elderly relatives who are not doing well. We will be happy to see the teens and twenty- and thirty-something cousins all bonding and laughing. We will play games. William will entertain us. 

Hopefully, no one will cry, but I suspect there may be some eye rolling and pouting (after all, I will be in attendance). 

And I thank God that all sisters and our families will be under one roof. 

Whatever and wherever you are spending Thursday, may it be in a place of peace. What more could we ask for this year?