It’s almost here, my favorite holiday! People are sometimes surprised that this is the day I look forward to most of all. Not my birthday, or the 4th of July, or even Christmas (though Christmas Eve Day is a close second!) I love that there are no expectations other than to enjoy seriously good food and relax with good company. I also love all the trappings of tradition that come with Thanksgiving. It’s funny, for as unconventional as I may be on the surface, just under the exterior I am a very traditional guy…
My family comes from good, old-fashioned mid-western stock, and our family Thanksgivings were never too adventuresome. We had the usual suspects: turkey stuffed with bread stuffing and roasted, mashed potatoes, gravy, squash, cranberry sauce, green beans (though I remember peas pinch-hitting every once and awhile) creamed onions (my personal favorite- hot, cold any way I can get them, they’re amazing!) rolls, and pumpkin pie. But it was all done perfectly, first by my grandmother, and then by my mother.
Both women were great cooks, but nodding to the times, they did pick up some shortcuts along the way (there were plenty of Thanksgivings and Christmases with canned cranberries- the sauce, not the jelly!), but things were brought full circle, and “scratch” came back to being the norm fairly early on in my childhood. One thing I do remember that, at our house, came out at Christmas time was the Johnson Brothers “Wild Turkey” platter (we virtually had the same meal on Christmas, but at our house, not my grandparents) that my grandmother gave my mom in 1951, the first year my parents were married. Eventually, my mom started to take over the cooking of both meals after it became too much for my grandmother. When this happened, the platter lived on the end of our dining table for the month between these two holidays as my mom’s autumnal decoration!
Fast forward to me as an adult settling my first home with my partner and beginning our own traditions. I discovered that this pattern was also tableware AND available on ebay! I was hooked. I quickly amassed a collection of 12 dinner plates which make their dinner party debut every year in the fall and stay out until the start of Advent. Sometimes I think that I’m the only one I know with Thanksgiving dishes… (“Oh, you have Christmas plates?!”) To that point, my mom had a severe addiction to Spode’s Christmas Tree dishes that was finally satisfied when my brother and sister-in-law gave her a full set (almost every piece imaginable!) as gifts over several years.
But it really is about the food, and the preparation of it. I was the bread plucker, and a week ahead, I had to do my duty for the stuffing! On the morning of the roasting of the turkey, my mom was up early to stuff and truss the bird, and set in motion the rest of the cooking that lasted all that day. One key memory was, after she sauted the onions, celery and seasoning for the stuffing, she scrambled eggs for breakfast in the same pan! Those were some amazing eggs! The love that went into that meal was fully realized by all of us. My mother truly loved everything about the Thanksgiving meal, and in her honor, we served it at her memorial. It was a natural and delicious tribute to her!
Further fast forward to our first Thanksgiving hosting my dad, his new wife, my sister and her children for the first time in our new home. As a house warming gift, my sister brought “the turkey platter” and now my dishes have been united with their inspiration. My next addition to the set are dessert plates in a coordinating pattern, “Harvest”, also by Johnson Brothers. It has the same brown transfer pattern and scallop around the edge, but with brilliantly colorful fruit in the center, rather than a flying turkey (there’s something strange about eating dessert on a plate with a turkey on it…). I picked up a dinner plate in this pattern in an auction lot of the “Wild Turkey” plates. Unfortunately, these plates in this size are few and far between on the auction circuit…
Oh, well. Here’s to happy hunting and a Happy Thanksgiving!