For Thanksgiving dinner no one would wish to other than old-fashioned. There are no short cuts…The more each person in the family takes part, the more fun Thanksgiving dinner. There are no short cuts for preparing the dressing or roasting the turkey, or for all the polishing and preparation that goes before a big family dinner. ~ Carolyn Coggin, Successful Entertaining at Home: A Complete Guide for Informal Entertaining
We have a little over two weeks before we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States (Canadians, it should be noted, have already had their Thanksgiving. Being ever practical, they don’t jam all of their holidays together like we do). The Sunday newspaper was filled with advertisements from local grocery stores touting their time saving “holiday dinner in a box.” At different price points, you get a meat and your choice of side dishes.
I know all about those dinners in a box. I have family members who swear by them, even though I offer to prepare the entire meal from scratch. I swear at them (the dinners, not the family members). The food tastes chemically and bland and institutional. You don’t think the stores are actually preparing those meals in the back, do you? They are made in a factory and shipped to the store.
Here’s the thing. You still have to reheat everything. And the process takes almost as long as it would have if you made everything from scratch. The difference is that it requires some planning. And confidence in your menu. Because the cooking part is really rather easy if you take it step by step. It is even easier if you make some “do ahead” dishes that only take 15-30 minutes to prepare and just require either reheating or taking out of the refrigerator before serving. And, it is even easier, still, if you are able to have family members contribute to the meal by bringing a dish or two.
I think the greatest enticement toward the dinners in a box is that it seems like all of the planning is done for you already. But, don’t people usually add extra stuff to those boxed dinners? So, you’re going to be doing some menu planning anyway.
Don’t confuse Thanksgiving Dinner with a Bacchanalian feast. Your guests will enjoy a simple and elegant meal much more than a feeding frenzy.
Here are three vintage menu ideas to get your mental juices flowing:
The Family ThanksgivingSuccessful Entertaining at Home: A Complete Guide for Informal Entertaining by Carolyn Coggins and published in 1952 by Prentiss-Hall
Clam Juice Cocktail
Minted Cream of Pea Soup with Croutons
Brazil Nut Stuffing
Molded Cranberry Pineapple Salad
Ginger Pumpkin Chiffon Refrigerator Cake
Raisins and Nuts
Feast for ThanksgivingBetter Homes & Gardens Holiday Cookbook Published in 1957
Harvest Fruit Cup
Roast Rock Cornish Game Hen
Mushroom Wild Rice
Asparagus Spears with Lemon Wedges
Baked Butternut Squash
Pumpkin Chiffon Tarts
A Thanksgiving Dinner (Gourmet)Feasts for All Seasons by Roy Andries deGroot and published in 1966 by Alfred. A. Knopf
Hors d’ oeuvres
Cream of Pumpkin Soup
Roast Turkey with Fruit and Chestnut Stuffing
Yams with Apricots and Sunflower Seeds
Marian’s Cranberry-Orange Relish
Apples Molded in a Scarlet Overcoat
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner will take longer than a typical evening meal but it doesn’t have to be stressful nor elaborate nor Martha Stewart or Food Network-ish. Pretend you are the cook in your own Food Network or PBS show and have fun!
Remember: If you’re not having fun, neither will anyone else.