I’m sure many of you, as I am, are elbow-deep in pie crust and cornbread and chopped veggies for dressing. Stacks of freshly ironed linens and extra plates for your guests stand ready to go on the table. You, like me, probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanksgiving likely edges out Christmas as my favorite holiday. What could be better than a day dedicated to eating and being grateful for our many blessings?
When I reflect on my childhood, I remember Christmases, birthdays, Easter and the Fourth of July. But what I remember most vividly are Thanksgiving celebrations, all beginning with the wonderful smells that originated in the kitchen and spread through the house — turkey roasting in the oven, celery and onions chopped on the countertop and ready to go into the dressing as soon as mother and daddy broke up the cornbread. Mother began making pies early in the week, so the wonderful aroma of flaky pie crust and pumpkin fillings, rich with cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves, perfumed our house for days.
My sisters and I could scarcely wait to dig into pies and cranberry sauce (though the latter always came from a can, jelled and wobbling on its plate), mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes covered in toasty marshmallows and mother’s melt-in-your-mouth yeast rolls. The smell of rolls baking in the oven almost drove our hunger over the edge.
I remember windows in the kitchen steamed from the many pots boiling on the stove, the world beyond our windows a blurry landscape of cedar tree and street and almost indistinguishable neighbors’ houses.
An hour before dinner, my sisters and I helped daddy set up the cherry drop-leaf table in the dining end of the living room, open its leafs and spread mother’s lacy tablecloth over it. We set the table with the best china plates (not fine china, but the best we had — no chips), laid a cloth napkin at each place and carefully arranged silver-plated forks and knifes at each setting.
In the center of the table always sat a bowl of fresh apples, oranges and grapes, and on a small table nearby stood a punch bowl with my dad’s special fruit punch he made only once a year, which was a mixture of cranberry, grape and orange juices and maybe a little carbonated beverage to make it bubbly. We three girls considered the punch a great treat and were allowed all we wanted, so I know it had no alcohol in it — though, in retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if daddy added a drop of something or the other to his own cup.
I expect the observation of Thanksgiving involves more set-in-stone traditions than any other holiday. In the South, cornbread dressing is a must, though other parts of the country prefer oyster dressing or a stuffing roasted in the turkey.
My family always had pumpkin pie. Dick’s Alabama family had sweet potato pie. Now I bake pumpkin, pecan and brown-sugar chess pies. Each family member has his or her preferences, and with so many of us gathered around the table (somewhere around 20, more or less), we need lots of pies.
Even though I make cranberry sauce using fresh cranberries, the can of jelled cranberry sauce is mandatory, as are green beans in some fashion — usually roasted with grape tomatoes by daughter Missy. Strange as it seems for a Thanksgiving feast, the Green family never convenes without a huge bowl of macaroni and cheese, made by daughter Amanda.
The mac-and-cheese rule holds for any family gathering, be it birthdays, Easter, Christmas or just a Sunday dinner. My mother was a champion mac-and-cheese maker. She used nothing but elbow macaroni and shredded cheddar cheese — no watering down the dish with cream sauce. She boiled the macaroni, stirred grated cheddar into the noodles while they were still hot, poured the combination into a baking dish, covered the mixture thoroughly with more grated cheddar and baked until golden brown. The top layer of cheese sealed in the moist noodles and cheese, keeping the dish a glorious combination of soft and crusty. I get hungry just thinking about it, as I do thinking about all the delicious dishes that will be spread on the Thanksgiving table.
Though the food will be wonderful, even more heartwarming will be the people gathered around the table — my sister and her husband, her children and grandchildren, Dick and me with our children and grandchildren and a couple of close friends. Truly a day to give thanks.