In this series, Magnolia Tribune staff and contributors reflect on what they are thankful for and supply some last-minute recipes for the home cook preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.
I can’t remember ever having a perfect Thanksgiving. Norman Rockwell did a huge disservice to American families when he depicted a perfectly dressed family sitting around a perfectly set table, looking excitedly at a perfectly roasted turkey being served by a perfectly perfect grandmother.
My childhood Thanksgivings alternated between my maternal grandparents’ home in West Monroe, Louisiana, my paternal grandparents’ home in Meridian, Mississippi, and my family home at the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
In West Monroe, an amazing feast was prepared in the tiniest of kitchens, with all hands on deck. I vividly recall my mother and her sisters catching up, laughing, and taking directions from my grandmother. Meals in her house were typically a serve-yourself affair from the stove, but on Thanksgiving she pulled out serving dishes from her glass-front China cabinet. Grown-ups ate at the dining room table, kids sat at card tables set up in the living room. It was chaotic and lots of fun.
In Meridian, it was a different vibe altogether. My grandmother there was the original Martha Stewart. We usually drove to Meridian early on Thanksgiving morning. My sister and I would sit in my grandparent’s bedroom with Pops and watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV while my mom and dad helped in the kitchen. A giant electric roaster was set up in the laundry room with a turkey basting in its own juices. There was a whirlwind of activity as dishes were prepared. I remember the sights, sounds and smells like it was yesterday.
When I was old enough, my grandmother solicited my help in setting the table which surely rivaled British royalty. The tablecloth and napkins were flawlessly pressed. Plates were set precisely one inch from the table’s edge. Silverware was polished and I learned which utensil went where (FORK went on the LEFT – both had four letters. KNIFE and SPOON on the RIGHT, all with five letters. Knife blade turned towards the plate, spoon on the outside). Crystal water and wine glasses were set just so. She even had crystal coasters with an indention for an iced tea spoon. Tiny salt cellars with silver salt spoons were at each place setting.
We learned proper manners and etiquette at her table. Napkins in laps. Do not take a bite until my grandmother takes her first bite. The proper way to pass a dish. And never put elbows on the table, lest you smash the fairies that run around its edges. Finally, don’t even think about getting up from the table before being excused. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but the fun of playing with cousins after lunch more than made up for it. And I can still taste the turkey sandwiches we would have for dinner.
When we had Thanksgiving at home, it was a full day of cooking. By the time all the food made it to the dining room table, my mother seemed to melt with exhaustion. She was stressed and didn’t seem to enjoy the meal much at all. But we did. Her dressing and sweet potato casserole to this day cannot be beat.
When I got married 43 years ago, I worked at the NBC affiliate in Hattiesburg and my husband worked at the Hattiesburg Country Club, both of which operated on Thanksgiving Day. My parents had moved to Memphis. We weren’t able to make the five-hour drive home for Thanksgiving. Instead, we invited friends who also weren’t able to go to their family homes and had a huge potluck dinner. It became a tradition for a few years until we moved to Jackson, one that was always filled with joy.
We love Thanksgiving and embrace the holiday as a time to be thankful for the many blessings we have, and to celebrate friends and family. We have had a houseful of people some Thanksgivings, and we have had a couple of Thanksgivings where it’s been just the two of us. Sometimes one kid comes home, sometimes both of them make it. We have eaten at friends’ tables and at restaurants. Honestly, it doesn’t seem to matter. We love the traditional Thanksgiving feast with all the fixings no matter where we eat it. We love Thanksgiving brunch as much as we do Thanksgiving dinner. We enjoy a Bloody Mary bar and lox and bagels as much as we do turkey and dressing.
When I stopped trying to create the “perfect” Thanksgiving, I realized that I was able to be truly thankful. I love the planning and preparation that goes into the day. I do it with a loving heart, thinking about all the people who will eat the meal, as well as those who will not be with us.
And when we sit down to eat, for that moment in time, all is perfect in the world.
Pre-Game: Thanksgiving Brunch
We don’t usually have our big Thanksgiving meal until about 3 or 4:00pm. Brunch, however, is served around 10:30am. We always have a Bloody Mary bar, and we serve lox and bagels along with deviled eggs and mixed fruit. We also put out assorted cheese and crackers so that people can nosh at will. There is champagne and orange juice for those who prefer mimosas.
The Bloody Marys we serve are mixed up ahead of time and served from a pitcher. Folks can help themselves, adding their preferred garnishes. We are pretty loose with proportions, tasting as we go until we get the flavor we like.
- 1 part vodka to 2 parts tomato-vegetable cocktail, like V8
- Worchestershire sauce to taste
- Hot pepper sauce to taste (best to put less, and let folks who want more spice to add their own)
- Celery seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
If we are feeling sassy, we’ll add some Clamato juice.
Pre-rim glasses with course salt mixed with smoked paprika.
Garnishes can include the following:
- Celery sticks, garlic-stuffed green olives, limes, pickled okra, pickled green beens, pickled asparagus, caperberries, cocktail onions
Lox and bagels
- 1 pack of smoked Norwegian salmon, sliced (we like the one from Costo that comes with a little mustard sauce packet)
- 1 bag of mini bagels (or large bagels cut in half)
- Softened cream cheese
- Capers, drained
- Finely chopped purple onion
Lightly toast bagels. Smear each bagel with cream cheese. Sprinkle on a few capers (the smaller nonpareil capers work best). Top with slice of salmon. Sprinkle top with chopped onion. If you have the mustard sauce packet, snip the corner and drizzle on top of each bagel. Arrange on a platter and impress your family and friends.
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