Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ghost of a Thanksgiving Past

Some 20 years ago, I was asked coerced convinced to prepare a modern Thanksgiving dinner in an 18th century manner in the home of said coercer host.  And oh, by the way, there would be a member of the British Embassy attending with his family, among others.

I came up with a menu*. I scaled the recipes up for the number of  people I was feeding, photocopied all the recipes, and put them in a binder. I made a master shopping list. I made a list of every pan, mixing bowl and utensil that I would need for each thing I was making. I made a timeline of what needed to be started when, when it had to go on the fire, what could be made ahead of time, and what had to be done last minute. I was as prepared as humanly possible for something I had never done before.

On Wednesday night, I made the cranberry sauce, and did as much food prep as I could. On Thursday morning, our host took himself to the grocery store to pick up the two fresh turkeys he has ordered previously, while I kept cooking.

He returned with two frozen turkeys.

He said they’d lost his order. The best they could do was send him back with frozen turkeys. Turkeys that were supposed to be on the fire in very short order. So I did the only thing I could think of. I named them John and Priscilla, and put them in the shower to thaw while I kept on with the meal prep.
The rest of the day was mostly a blur. I do remember that the turkey on the spit (Priscilla) cooked faster than the one hanging from the clock jack (John) so we rigged up a reflector with a sheet of something shiny.  I remember one of our guests coming in and taking pity on me and kneading the dough for the rolls. I remember the stiff upper lip when one of the Brits decided to try pumpkin pie for the first time and was very surprised that it wasn’t bad. I remember another member of the family helping with the washing up.

But mostly, I remember thawing John and Priscilla in the shower.

*Nut Breads (for nibbling while I got everything on the table)
Crab Soup
Roast Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet potatoes with lime juice, and nutmeg and rum
Scalloped Corn
Onion Pie
Bran yeast rolls
Honey Butter and assorted Jellies
Pickled Peaches
Cranberry Sauce
Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce
Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
Ice Cream

And everything but the ice cream was made from scratch.
And wine, sherry and Port.


  1. I wonder. My mom (Iowa farm wife) would have called in a couple of favors -- had a neighbor or three take on a couple of dishes, things they enjoyed/excelled at. A manor-scale dinner would have likely taken a manor-scale kitchen -- or kitchen and outdoor oven. With helpers.

    The effort for this dinner was heroic -- and but I wonder of the heroism was actually authentic, given the scale of the event. "Nothing was overdone but the cook!"

    Um, who did the dishes? Just kidding!