My family’s Thanksgiving Day traditions don’t go back generations – they began more recently, when my children were small. My parents grew up far away in Eastern Europe. My mother immigrated to America after living in Israel for more than a decade. She didn’t speak English, and though she was surprised and impressed by so many things about America, she never adopted our traditions as her own. We never had a barbeque on the 4th of July, or roasted a turkey on Thanksgiving.
My husband Drew’s parents were divorced, and he was raised by his dad. When he was young, the two of them usually went on vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday, and ate at a restaurant on that special Thursday. So Drew didn’t bring memories of a perfect Thanksgiving meal to our home either.
But now, twenty-seven years after we got married, Drew and I are seasoned Thanksgiving hosts. We’ve prepared dinner for our family for two decades. My sister and her family live nearby, as does my mom, and our house is where we gather.
Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a large group requires a lot of planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning. I must say that having grown children (our daughter is 23 and our son is 20) makes a world of difference.
In the old days, we’d have to do all that work while making sure our little ones were cared for and entertained.
Now we divide up the tasks between the four of us, and it’s an extra special time to chat, joke and experience the joy of working in harmony together. Nonetheless, we still continue a tradition we created years ago – we always roast a second turkey that we hide away from our guests so we can enjoy a second Thanksgiving dinner the next day when we’re totally relaxed, as well as have plenty for leftovers.
Because I hate to waste food, another tradition we have is to boil up the turkey carcass to make a flavorful turkey stock for a big batch of soup, as well as to freeze some for future gravy making.
Over the years, we’ve made more and more dishes from scratch. I used to buy jarred cranberry sauce, but now I always make it myself. I just simmer 10 ounces of fresh or frozen organic cranberries with a scant ½ cup of sugar and 1/3 cup water for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. It’s so easy, and we can make it how we like it – a little more tart and chunky than store bought versions. It can be served warm, cold or at room temperature.
We make both an apple crisp and the Pumpkin and Winter Squash Pie from my cookbook, The Earthbound Cook. My kids have been helping with the crisp for 18 years! We make the harvest pie using the beautiful winter squash from our farm stand. Pumpkins are great, but any combination of winter squash works well, too. I bake the squash a day or two before Thanksgiving, and always roast the seeds with a little olive oil, salt and pepper (You don’t have to limit yourself to pumpkin seeds). We serve the crisp with vanilla ice cream and the pie with a dollop of organic whipped cream. Both get gobbled up no matter how full we are from our feast.
Wishing everyone a wonderful day of giving thanks. What are the personal touches you have added to Thanksgiving to make the tradition your own? I’d love to hear them!