In my family, Thanksgiving was an all-day affair. The children would eat something light for breakfast, though the grownups would fast, and we’d cook all day until we served dinner around 3 in the afternoon, after which we’d spend the rest of the evening sneaking into the kitchen to pick at the leftovers.
Now, that I host Thanksgiving dinners (though with the new baby, I won’t be hosting this year), I keep with the tradition of fasting before a huge meal in the early afternoon.
In planning the menu, I keep staples that we’ll never be without like slow-roasted turkey or mashed potatoes and gravy, and then I mix up the rest, focusing on seasonal flavors and local foods where possible. The meal always includes some nibbles to start before the meal’s officially served, something to drink, the bird, plenty on the side, a little something fermented, and a sweet to finish.
It’s nice to have a little something for guests to nibble at before you serve the dinner, in all its abundance.
I love to start dinner off with something particularly nutrient-dense like Sage and Chicken Liver Pâté on or toasted points of No-Knead Sourdough Bread. If I’m feeding a large enough crowd, I’ll also serve little pots of wild-caught salmon roe with herbed crème fraîche homemade Yogurt and Spelt Crackers.
Something to Drink
A pot or slowcooker set on a low simmer and filled with Mulled Wine is nice. I usually serve Traditional Wassail later in the holiday season. For children, Spiced Cranberry Mors – a traditional Russian drink that reads like a cider on the tongue – works well, and everyone seems to like Cinnamon Spice Kombucha, if only as a novelty.
For The Bird
I’m a fan of slow-roasting poultry, and, specifically, of slow-roasting pasture-raised poultry. I like to use a recipe passed down on my husband’s side of the family for Slow-Roasted Turkey which I serve alternately with Cranberry Mandarin Relish or Cranberry Kumquat Sauce (and sometimes both, for a crowd) as the mood strikes.
Brining the bird in advance can also increase its succulence, and you can use the recipe for Cider-Brined Chicken from my first cookbook for turkey, too.
If you don’t care for turkey, we also like to roast a duck from time to time. I use this recipe for Slow-Roasted Duck with Sour Cherry Sauce.
Plenty on the Side
When you plan for Thanksgiving, plan to balance decadent and rich foods with light foods.
For the rich and decadent sides, those ones that stick-with-you, I favor classic Buttermilk Herb Mashed Potatoes or a sourdough stuffing, and I also like to bring sweet root vegetables to the table in the way of these Maple-Glazed Carrots and Parsnips. Butternut Squash with Cinnamon is also nice at the Thanksgiving table.
For something lighter, I like this Autumn Salad with Apples and Butternut Squash or this one with roasted beets and kombucha vinaigrette. For cooked greens, I like Buttered Spinach or Sautéed Greens with Garlic.
Fermented foods, rich in food enzymes and beneficial bacteria, are also acidic. They help to lighten the meal and improve digestion, something particularly helpful with such a high-calorie feast. For Thanksgiving, I tend to ditch my steadfast homemade sauerkraut and make Apple and Beetroot Relish, or I’ll ferment my Cranberry Mandarin Relish by whisking it a little starter culture and letting it sit for a few days in a crock.
A Sweet Finish
It’s nice to offer two or three desserts, depending on the number of guests at your table. Everyone will get a little sliver of a few things, making Thanksgiving particularly sweet.
Pumpkin Custard, like pumpkin pie but without the fuss of the crust, is my favorite. Maple Vanilla Pecan Pie is also a stalwart addition to our Thanksgiving table. Chai-Spiced Molasses Custard is nice, too.