For most of my childhood, Thanksgiving (as well as Christmas, Easter and Mothers’ Day) meant going to the local all-you-can-eat-buffet with my parents, siblings, grandparents, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins on my mom’s side. We looked forward to these events every time. I felt we were lucky to be able to go out to eat on holidays — that is, until I met my husband’s family and experienced a home cooked Thanksgiving meal. I fell in love with this holiday tradition. For years I glided along, being invited to my in-laws, and eventually my sister-in-law took on the tradition. But time moves on. Lives change. Eventually, the day came when Dennis decided we should have our own Thanksgiving dinner – just he, me and the boys (ranging in age from like 2-10 at the time). I had never cooked a turkey, but, I was willing to give it a try. Now, I’d like to say we had a warm and wonderful time preparing the meal all together, but that isn’t exactly how it went.
That first year I worked alone in the kitchen. Dennis and the boys watched football; I had a little pity party. I missed being with the bigger family. The following year, I made sure to have a 4 hour movie on hand which I enjoyed on a small TV on the counter while I made the dinner. By the 3rd year, the movie was replaced by an audio book. At this point I started kind of enjoying my cook-all-day and enjoy-a-good-book while the guys bonded over football kind of Thanksgiving tradition.
Over the years, I polished my methods and began to take pride in the dinner I presented, eventually feeling comfortable enough to make this meal for extended family as well. Now, making the Thanksgiving meal is something which brings me great pleasure and I am grateful that I was forced to learn how to do it.
Being who I am, I had to develop a plan. So, at the risk of being considered neurotic, I am going to share with you my schedule, along with the recipes. Perhaps this is your first time making the Thanksgiving meal, or maybe you might be looking for some new recipes or are trying to figure out how to manage all the steps. Or maybe, you, like me,would just like to have everything in one place. If nothing else, it might give you pleasure to glance at my schedule and shake you head at what a nut I am. Use whatever works for you.
Making recipes from scratch is my preference. (Though I used canned cranberry sauce.) Obviously there are lots of shortcuts that can be taken to lighten up the schedule. I’m giving you my recipes and the schedule as an example. Adjust it to whatever works for your family.
Three things I’ve learned that make everything more manageable: Mashing potatoes is a bit of a timing issue. You have to mash them right when they’re just soft enough. Letting the potatoes sit in the water too long (or even draining, but not mashing, if my memory serves me) makes them get really pasty. Mashing them while you’re trying to pull all the last-minute preparations into place is a real nuisance. My solution – mash them 1-3 hours before the turkey is done and transfer them to a crock pot to keep warm. The other thing I do to free up my oven is cook the turkey in a Nesco (plug-in roaster/oven). I get a big bird (about 20 pounds) and sometimes it barely fits in there, so that’s something to keep in mind. Also, you don’t get that nice golden skin on top, but you DO get really moist turkey and a freed-up oven – a good trade-off in our opinion. I’ve found stuffing the bird to be a lot of mess and waste, so I throw and onion and some celery in the bird’s cavity to help flavor and moisten the meat and put the stuffing in a casserole dish and bake it. Look below for my schedule and recipes.
BONUS THANKSGIVING IDEAS
- My siblings and I decided many years ago that we would “give” Thanksgiving DINNER to the in-laws. Each of us eats with our in-laws, or now our growing individual families, but in the evening my side of the family gathers together at one of our houses for a dessert buffet followed by cards and board games. It’s a great tradition that alleviates the pressure of trying to be at two different places for the Thanksgiving meal. Plus it allows the forty or more of us to get together without overburdening the hostess. Whoever is up to it brings a dessert to share and there’s always plenty.
- Here’s anther fun idea. Have each person write down 5 things they are thankful for. Throw all the papers in a basket and read them off one paper at a time. Try to guess who wrote each paper.
- Alternatively, keep a Jar of Thankfulness all year long. Have family members write down throughout the year (or just for the month of November if that works better) different things that fill them with gratitude and place them in a jar. Read through the jar over your Thanksgiving dinner.
- A friend of mine, who is much more ambitious than I, made several pilgrim costumes which her younger children would dress in for the Thanksgiving meal. I love this idea and have visions of doing this for my grandchildren someday though I haven’t followed through on it yet. Maybe someday we’ll just make that the theme and have adults and children come in costume. I can dream, can’t I?
- Give the children lots of Thanksgiving words and words that rhyme with them and have them create and recite a poem for the family.
However you spend Thanksgiving, may your day be filled with gratitude to God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon you.
Turkey (1/2 – ¾ lb. per person)
Honey Kissed Acorn Squash
Orange Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Whole Berry Cranberry Relish
Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule (Recipes to follow)
6-7 hours before dinner:
Place onion and celery in cavity of a fresh or thawed, rinsed turkey, rub turkey with oil, sprinkle with Lawry’s Salt and place (breast side up) in Nesco at 325°*
Put Giblets on to boil along with an onion, celery, 2 carrots, salt and pepper
[ * Baste Turkey about every 1/2 hour or so. Figure on cooking for about 20 minutes per pound. Turkey is done when meat thermometer, inserted in thickest part of breast, reads 185°.]
5 hours before:
Make Stuffing; place in greased casserole and chill.
Peel Potatoes and place in cold water
4 hours before
Boil washed, but unpared Sweet Potatoes
Prepare Glaze for Sweet Potatoes
Assemble Sweet Potatoes (except marshmallows) and chill
3 hours before
Quarter Potatoes , bring to boil, boil about 20 minutes until mushy
Assemble Green Bean Casserole then keep chilled
Whip Potatoes with butter, salt and milk, and put in Crock Pot on low
2 hours before
Make spiced apples
Prepare Squash and Filling
1 hour before
Put Beans in Oven
Put Stuffing in Oven
Make Gravy and place in small crock pot to keep warm or keep chilled until needed.
45 minutes before
Fill Squash and return to oven
Sweet Potatoes and Apples in oven
30 minutes before
Top Beans with Onions and Take cover off of Stuffing
Put Corn on to Boil
15 minutes before
Take all casseroles out
Put Biscuits in oven
Take Turkey out to carve
Place cranberries in dish and place on table
1 6-oz. pkg. orange jell-o
1 3-oz. pkg. cherry jell-o
2 11-oz. cans mandarin oranges (or 15 oz. crushed pineapple)
1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple, chilled
Dissolve orange jell-o in 1 c. boiling water. Add undrained oranges to jell-o. Set in refrigerator to cool until slightly thickened. Stir occasionally. When jell-o thickens enough that fruit doesn’t all float to top, pour it into a slightly oiled mold and allow to set overnight.
Dissolve cherry Jell-o in 1 c. boiling water. Add undrained pineapple. Pour this layer over orange layer. Allow to set at least several hours. Invert mold onto plate when ready to serve.
1 tsp. salt
2 c. flour
2/3 c. Crisco brand vegetable shortening
6 Tbs. water
Cut salt, flour and shortening together with a pastry cutter until crumbly. Add just enough water to make dough soft. Mix with fingers just long enough to blend and make dough stick together. (Over-handling will make a tougher crust.)
Divide dough in half and roll out to desired size (about 2 inches beyond the diameter of the pie plate). Gently fold in quarters and lift to pie plate. Carefully unfold and fill or crimp.
Makes a top and bottom for a 9” pie.
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
12 oz. evaporated milk
¾ c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Single (unbaked) pie crust
Blend all ingredients and pour into crust. (Make high edges on crust – you will fill it.) Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350º and bake 40-50 minutes longer. Knife inserted in center should come out clean.
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 c. light or dark corn syrup
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ c. pecan halves
1 – 9 inch unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350º. Stir together everything but the pecans, until well blended. Stir in the pecans and pour into the pie shell. Bake 50-55 minutes until knife inserted halfway between center and edge of pie comes out clean.
Beth’s Turkey Stuffing
12-14 oz. Pkg. Dry unseasoned bread cubes
3-4 c. chicken or turkey broth (See “to make stock” below)
1 med. or large onion chopped
8-9 stalks of celery (with the leaves), chopped
1 c. butter
2 tsp. crushed sage
1 ½ tsp. thyme
¼- ½ tsp. black pepper
1-2 tps. salt
Sauté celery, onion and spices in the butter until tender. Toss in large bowl with bread cubes. Stir in broth. Place in buttered casserole dish. And bake at 350º for 30 minutes covered, then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more.
To make stock: Simmer several celery stalks, 2 pared carrots, 1 onion, 2 tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, turkey neck and package of giblets in 2 ½ quarts of water for 1 ½ – 2 hours
To make giblet gravy: Strain stock and set aside for gravy. Place stewed vegetables and giblets in blender. Pick meat off of neck and add to blender being sure not to get any bone. Add about 1 c. stock to blender. Blend until smooth. Add back to stock. [Optionally, add sliced, cooked mushrooms to gravy.]
Bring 1 quart of strained stock to boiling. Put ½ c. flour in
1 c. cold waterand shake to smooth consistency. Whisk into broth slowly. Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thick and bubbly.
Orange Glazed Sweet Potatoes
6 sweet potatoes (yams)
1/3 c. white sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. grated orange peel
1 cup orange juice
2 Tbs. butter
1 c. mini marshmallows
Wash potatoes, but don’t pare. Place them in a pot and cover with water. (Add 1 tsp. salt for every cup of water.) Bring to boil, then boil for about 30 minutes until tender. Cool with cold water, then peel skin away. (It come off very easily.) Slice in chunks and put in 2-3 qt. casserole dish.
Place sugars, salt, orange peel, butter and ¾ c. orange juice in sauce pan. Whisk cornstarch into remaining ¼ c. orange juice until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to sugar mixture whisk together. Heat on medium heat, stirring continually until thickened. Pour hot juice mixture over potatoes in the dish. May refrigerate at this point.
Sprinkle marshmallows over top of potatoes. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes until marshmallows are golden.
(Marshmallows could also be mixed into potatoes before baking.)
Green Bean Casserole
12 oz. package of frozen green beans
1 – 10 ¾ oz. can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup
¾ c. milk
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. pepper
1 can French fried onion rings
Blend milk and Worcestershire sauce and pepper with soup. Stir in half of the onion rings. Stir frozen beans into this mixture and pour into buttered casserole dish. Bake, covered at 350 º for 30 minutes. Top with remaining onion rings and bake15 minutes MORE, uncovered.
½ c. raisins (option: Soak raisins in Amaretto for a couple hours ahead of time,)
4-5 apples of assorted varieties, pared and sliced thickly
½ c. orange juice
½ c. water
1/3 c. sugar
2 Tbs. lemon juice
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutme
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. flour
2 Tbs. butter
Bring everything but flour and butter to boil and simmer to desired tenderness. (Drain raisins before adding.) Remove 1/3 cup of liquid and set aside to cool slightly. Stir butter into apple mixture. Whisk flour into cooled liquid until smooth. Add to apple mixture and heat until thickened. Serve warm.
½ c. shortening
1 ½ c. buttermilk
4 c. flour
2 Tbs. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
Sift or whisk dry ingredients together. Cut shortening into dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and mix with fork. Knead dough a few times on floured counter until easily handled. (Only long enough to have dough hold together. Over-kneading makes for tough biscuits.) Pat out in circle to about ½” – ¾“ thickness. Cut with small glass or bisuit cutter. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 450° for about 10 minutes – until lightly browned. (14 large biscuits)
Honey Kissed Acorn Squash
2 acorn squashs, halved and seeded
8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
¼ c. chopped pecans
¼ c. sweetened dried cranberries
¼ c. plus 2 Tbs. honey
¼ c. butter, melted
Optional: ground nutmeg
Bake squash cut side up, uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine pineapple, pecans, cranberries, honey and butter. Scoop mixture into center of each squash. Return to oven for another 30 minutes. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.