When it comes to Thanksgiving cooking, I’m a total turkey.
It’s not for lack of trying. I’m a person who loves a challenge, and Thanksgiving is the ultimate test of home entertaining. On what other occasion must a hostess bring 12 dishes to the table simultaneously — all at the proper temperature — knowing her guests’ expectations will never be higher?
Besides, I consider myself a decent, above-average cook. My confidence in the kitchen has grown considerably since I was a young bride. I’m not afraid to try exotic Food Channel recipes or improvise my own concoctions, if need be. And I’m incredible with goat cheese.
But when it comes to preparing “the” meal of the year, I’m haunted by self-doubt, due to the Great Thanksgiving Debacle of 1991.
In a weak moment, I had agreed to host my husband’s family’s Thanksgiving reunion. These annual gatherings ranged in size from 15 to 35 people, ages 8 weeks to 80. In the past, I’d marveled at how many humans could squeeze into one modest-sized home and exit five hours later, bellies full, humors and limbs still intact.
“It’s our turn to have it,” my husband said. “But don’t worry. Everyone chips in. How hard can it be?”
He’s right, I thought. After all, the hosts are only responsible for the bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, beverages and table service. Not to mention housecleaning for days beforehand, card table and folding chair procurement. Piece of cake.
Except for one thing: his family insisted on eating at NOON! That’s right, like both hands on the 12!
More of a “dinner at eight” kind of gal, I’d learned that “dinner” at noon/“supper” at six was a tradition in families with rural roots. It made sense to fuel up on a big midday meal before spending an afternoon plowing a field or herding cattle. But to gorge yourself on 5,000 calories of fat and carbs, only to nap in front of the TV afterwards? That made no sense at all. Plus, I’d have to start cooking before the rooster crowed!
On Thanksgiving Day, I awoke before dawn to prep the biggest piece of poultry I’d ever seen and start the potatoes. The relatives arrived at 11 a.m. on the dot — all 28 of them — bearing Jell-O molds, carrot-raisin salad, homemade rolls, yams with marshmallows, veggie trays, casseroles of all kind and enough desserts to sabotage the entire cast of “The Biggest Loser.”
Children swarmed over the yard, men shot hoops on the driveway. Toddlers tottered underfoot. Suddenly, every adult female in the clan was in my tiny kitchen, rifling through unorganized drawers.
“Honey, where do you keep your pie servers?” one of the elders asked.
“Pie servers?” I repeated, stifling a yawn.
“Pie servers, honey. We’ve got seven pies here.”
“Um. I don’t have any pie servers.”
“Well,” she exclaimed, incredulously. “How do you serve pie?”
“With these” I said, handing her all the rubber spatulas I could find.
As she hustled off to the buffet table, shaking her head, I opened the oven to check the turkey. Horrors! It was supposed to be done a half-hour ago but the blue pop-up timer was nowhere in sight.
Meanwhile, there were potatoes to be mashed. Twent- pounds of them. I suddenly needed a nap.
“Darlin’, where’s your Mixmaster?” another woman inquired.
“In the drawer, right side of the sink,” I replied, still searching for that elusive pop-up thingie.
“That’s a hand mixer, darlin’,” she said, unmistakable concern in her voice.
“That’s all I have,” I answered.
“For 20 pounds of potatoes? Oh, darlin’,” she sighed. “We’d better get crackin’.”
After the third batch of potato whipping, I started to panic. The big hand was already on the seven. My husband squeezed into the kitchen, a gleaming knife in hand.
“Turkey ready to carve?”
“It should be, but the little thingie hasn’t popped out!” I was dizzy from exhaustion.
He lifted the bird from the oven and placed it on the range top. No sign of the thingie.
A voice came from across the room.
“Sugar, that turkey is upside down!!”
Ten minutes of riotous laughter followed, tempered only by the incessant whir of an overheated hand mixer.
Miraculously, the meal came together and began promptly at the stroke of 12. Old men were napping soundly by 1:30 p.m.
I’ve hosted other Thanksgiving feasts since then, with upright birds, pie servers and fewer mishaps. But, those early morning marathons for 28 people? Well, that was my last supper. I mean, dinner.