How to Have Thanksgiving

At home, Thanksgiving 2013
Since I grew up in America, people frequently ask me about Thanksgiving.  "Its bigger than Christmas, right?" Well, no, not in my family, but I can see how you could get that impression. The curiosity I've frequently come across has manifested itself in more than a few locals voicing that they'd  like to celebrate Thanksgiving, too.  Some restaurants even put on an American Thanksgiving spread.

So for anyone who is interested, this is how Thanksgiving was always celebrated in my family...

My grandma would spend the night as she'd need to put the turkey in the oven by 5am (to be ready to eat by 3pm).  My mom is one of eight siblings, and four of her sisters lived around us so our house was always packed for Thanksgiving.  My mom and dad would go into cleaning overdrive to get the house ready.

On Thanksgiving Day you'd wake up to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven.  People would start to arrive at 1pm and we'd eat about 3pm.  You'd eat a light breakfast and really try to starve yourself so you could pack it in for the dinner.

The table is set for Thanksgiving 2013, honoured to have the tablecloth from my (other) Grandma,  Mary Meehan O'Meara
Once people started arriving, the kitchen was in chaos.  Grandma was in charge of the turkey (a turkey big enough to feed 20+, mind) and the gravy, which only she was allowed to touch.  My aunt Nancy and I would try to sneak in to peel off some skin as the turkey was cooking but Grandma always caught us.  My gran was also in charge of the stuffing (two batches - one cooked inside the turkey, one cooked out) and the mashed potatoes.  The recipe for her holiday mash is here:

  • 3lbs [about 12 medium] potatoes, peeled, cooked & hot
  • 1 8oz package cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup milk 
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup onions finely chopped (optional) 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • a dash of pepper
  • In large mixing bowl (or mash by hand) mash hot potatoes.  When all lumps are removed, add cream cheese in small pieces and then the butter.  Beat well until cheese and butter are both melted and completely mixed.  Mix in some sour cream.  To the milk add the eggs and onions.  Add the potato mixture along with the salt and pepper.  Beat well until light and fluffy.  Place in a greased 9-inch round casserole and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Bake in preheated over at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until lightly browned on top.  (makes 8 servings) 




Grandma's gravy recipe is this:

  • Drippings from cooked meat (if you've been roasting a turkey for hours there will be loads) 
  • Approximately 1 cup flour
  • Boiling potato or vegetable water (to dilute) 
  • After meat is out of the oven, place the bottom of the roasting pan with the drippings on stove top burners.  Skim some of the fat off.  Throw at least one cup of flour in the pan, as if you were making a roux. Add flour before turning on heat. Stir, making sure it browns before then adding boiling water (potato or vegetable water).  Use all of the water from the potatoes if making a lot of gravy (e.g. large turkey).  Cook gravy on middle heat (ONLY!) and stir constantly.  Its done when you get a good, creamy paste without lumps.  

My aunt Patty would always bring the green beans, cooked in a mushroom sauce, which I still adore. My uncle Sewell would bring Aunt's Helen's Rolls, the recipe for which is still a closely guarded secret.  My aunt Ginny provided a lovely cranberry sauce that would make you a fan of cranberries for life.
My brother & dad, in charge of carving the turkey circa 1998
After you gorged yourself on a big turkey dinner, there was always PIE! At this point my family took about an hour break to do some tidying up and digesting.  We always had pumpkin and apple pie, primarily made by my gran (her recipe for pie crust, the BEST, seriously!, is below) although I have become a big fan of making pecan pie these last few years.  Serve pressurised whipped cream (M&S stocks) with the pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream with the pecan pie & apple pie (both of these pies should be served warm).
Pumpkin & Pecan pies
Us kids? Well, being the eldest of 15 grandkids I was lucky to always get to sit at the 'big table'.  And we didn't have to do much.  But now we get to share these traditions with our own families.

Grandma Kay's Classic Pie Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening (crisco) or butter
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • Sift together the flour and salt. Add the shortening or butter and cut in with two knives.  mixture should be somewhat lumpy.  Add 5 tablespoons of cold water and mix with spoon and hands into a ball.  Handle the dough AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Chill for 15-20 minutes and then roll out. Work quickly and with a light touch - the less handling, the more tender and flaky the crust. Use loads of flour to keep from sticking when you're rolling out. Makes two crusts. 


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