A Taste of Thanksgiving: Dinner

Let's talk turkey today!! Seriously, though, what is Thanksgiving dinner without it? If you are on the coast, you could add eel and still be keeping with the Pilgrim tradition! One year, while training for missions, we missed the turkey train and ended up making deer stew! We all have our traditions and our dinner table must-haves. Even my youngest, now married, who never liked Green Bean Casserole, has decided it is a must-make for her new family since, in her mind, Thanksgiving just isn't the same without it!

I get that. When I first married and moved west, I missed the HUGE gatherings which had been a staple of my childhood. My mom, the second youngest of six and my dad, the second youngest of seven, had no shortage of relatives to spend holidays with - Thanksgiving was no exception. The dishes were as varied as the hands which made them, some hailing from traditions which had sailed over only a generation before while others bridged the Cumberland gap as family spread across the south before scattering to the north and still others, a nod to the times.

German Coffee Cake

Southern Dumplings

Carrot and Raisin Salad

The infamous Chex Mix made from scratch (before you could buy it pre-packaged at the store!)

As I set to building our own menus and traditions, I tried the old, filtered in some new and always found room for more yet often coming back to the tried and true basics. It is hard to preach Thanksgiving Recipes because I feel this is where most families stand - you can't mess with tradition! Nonetheless, in keeping with our Friday theme this month (check out last week's post on the topic) here is our next post in the "Taste" series, revised a bit and re-issued:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Last week we kicked off November and the trek towards Thanksgiving by sharing some ideas for Appetizers as well as a fun family gratitude craft. As any holiday celebration progresses past the pre-meal samplings, once everyone has arrived it is time to settle in with the main course!

It is hard to share a recipe this week... everyone typically has their tried-and-true plans for the main meal.  Turkey (and/or Ham), Mashed Potato, corn, green bean casserole and so on.  I have tried variations and add-ons to this menu over the years, but nothing sells like the classics.  The one recipe I can share isn't really a recipe at all...

Tips for the Perfect Turkey

This is the one thing I get asked every time we have Thanksgiving company... how do you get your turkey so juicy.  Not once does a guest see me open my oven and baste my turkey.  The answer: old family recipe.

you need:  
Paper bag large enough for your bird
red wine (I typically use Mogan David per Mema’s recommendation)
roasting pan (with rack is preferable but not required)
stapler or large metal paper clips
meat thermometer

Start by making sure all the little 'extras' are out of your bird.  There is usually a packet of innards in the region of the neck cavity and a neck in the main cavity.  Be sure all cavities are clear of these tidbits.  Rinse your bird really well inside and out.  Pat it dry.  Paper towels or regular towel work fine, just be sure not to re-use the towel until it has been washed. 

Now, roll your sleeves up and wear an apron or something you can change out of, this part is messy: grease up the ENTIRE inside only of your paper bag with the margarine.  Also grease up your bird.  Sprinkle some salt over top and inside, just to taste.  I usually try to secure the way-ward wings with toothpicks or small metal pokers when I have them.  It isn't absolutely necessary though.  (I usually do my bird while still in my pajamas.  When I am down I can put my night clothes in the dirty laundry, wash up and change into my outfit for the day)

I like to lay my bag down in the roasting pan before moving the bird, it makes this next step easier.  Slip bird inside of bag so the wide end of the bird almost touches the bottom/or back of the bag.... don't worry if the bag is touching the bird on any side.  The margarine keeps it from sticking.  I usually put my hand and forearm into the main cavity of the bird and lift it into the bag that way.  Pour about 1 cup (for medium bird) to 1 1/2 cups (for large) wine inside of the turkey cavity.  Seal bag using stapler or paper clips.  You won't be opening again until much later.  Don't worry about the alcohol in the wine, it roasts out and is completely safe for children, pregnant moms and the rest.

Bake bird on lowest rack according to package directions.  I believe the typical roasting is 15-20 minutes per pound in a 325-350 degree oven.  Turkey is done when internal temperature is at least 165 degrees.  It will smell weird (not bad, just different) at times while it is roasting and on occasion I have even had a little haze come from my oven.  If concerned, you can check on it, but not once, in over 25 years of roasting turkeys this way, have I ever started or risked a fire (my grandma did this 50 years longer than me with raving results!)

You can carefully open the front of the bag when the time is up and pop a thermometer in to verify it is cooked to the right internal temperature.  When it is done, it is best to let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving. While turkey rests, it is a good time to pop those last minute dishes, like green bean casserole and yams, in!  While these last few items are doing their thing, we prepare to carve. The paper bag will easily tear open, we unusually open along the top as seen in the above picture (sorry for the blur).  Hubby was so sweet last year to don my apron and get to work teaching Brenden how to carve [c.2014].  Doesn't that bird look pretty?  I slipped in and siphoned out some of the drippings from the turkey and made gravy while he worked. 

* In recent years I have forgone the wine and paper bag and roasted my turkey in a giant roaster (you can actually see the white roaster in the background of the above picture!). I generously butter the outside and sprinkle with salt as usual, only now I also load the cavity with butter, parsley, salt, pepper, celery, sliced onion and chopped garlic instead of wine. I roast on 325 for 15 minutes per lb (I always get the biggest bird so we can have planned leftovers and save extra for soup!) Once my lid is placed on top, I cover it with foil because it is made of thin aluminum and vents incessantly if I don’t! I want to be sure the bulk of the steam remains inside the pan to moisten my turkey and it works GREAT! No basting necessary and meat is moist and flavorful… as are the drippings when I go to make my gravy!


I have no special gravy recipe but I will use this commercial break to say: I swear by Wondera and use it for ALL my gravy needs year-round because my gravy is perfect EVERY time just by following the directions on package. 

If you haven't heard of it, you can find it in the baking isle around the flour and corn starch. I mix my turkey drippings with some chicken or turkey bullion mixed with water (equivalent of buying a can of broth) to make my base. My dad was always old-school flour and my mom, well, she just bought it by the jar! To each their own!!

Sides and Such

As mentioned at the opening, we have a base, like many, which remains unchanged year after year. It is OK to keep with tried and true.... but it is also OK and not sacrilege to try new things as well! In recent years we have added winter salads and squash dishes, some stay for repeat while others don't get an encore! Either way, we always keep that base of favorites:

Corn on the cob
Stove Top Dressing

Green Bean Casserole
Mashed Potato
Dinner rolls


I LOVE a pretty table... especially at the holidays.  Since going in and out of the mission field we haven't had company for Thanksgiving (everyone we know locally has family they go to for dinner).  Still, having grown up in a large family with parents from large families, I have been used to a lot of people, a lot of food, and the idea that the day is set apart from other days.  So how do I compensate for this?

Unlike a regular weekday meal:
- we have special appetizers
- we have more than one or two sides (and leftovers for a week!!!)
- we have dessertS... usually a variety
- I set the table with my special lace tablecloth, candles and a full array of dishes and silver

- I REQUIRE best dressed (or at least dressed NICELY and NOT in pajamas or grubby clothes!) before anyone is allowed at the table. Ties are optional.
- Dinner discussion is corralled around gratitude reflections and the coming Christmas season
- We close the evening with a game or family movie (or both when energy allows!)

Believe it or not, we use to have a house-full for the holiday meals.  At one point, we even arranged special place settings for each adult guest and made sure the kids’ area was fun and inviting with Thanksgiving themed coloring pages, crafts and games. 

My favorite (and simplest) was the year I plucked leaves off my silk arrangements and used a gold marker to write each guest's name (not sure if you can see it clearly, it has faded some over the years):

Another year, when organizing a special women's fall dinner at my church, I carved, using metal cookie cutters, and hot glued this nifty centerpiece:

It was the talk of the evening!

Fun for the Kiddos

Like the wait for Christmas, the anticipation of Thanksgiving, good food, and fellowship with family, can be a tough wait for children. One year, completely out of the blue, we decided to have a “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and before we knew it, an annual tradition was born…

Our activity actually doesn't happen on the DAY OF Thanksgiving, but rather, the week of, in order to break up the boredom of a week off of school and ease anticipation.  I am a big Charlie Brown fan and I love all their movies.  My favorites are the holiday ones and Thanksgiving tops the list.  If you haven't seen it, it is a must-buy.  Peppermint Patty invites herself and a few friends over to Charlie Brown's house for Thanksgiving Dinner but 'ol Chuck and Sally are supposed to be going to Grandma's for the big meal.  So, they compromise by having an earlier meal with their friends.  Only one problem: Charlie Brown doesn't know how to cook anything except toast!  With the help of Snoopy and Linus they pull off their own meal.... you have to watch the movie to see how it turns out! 

The menu is strictly movie related... down to the specially folded napkins and table cloth!  One exception: we don't eat outside at a ping-pong table!  We watch the movie while enjoying our 'dinner' in the living room (in order to view the t.v.) and we invite friends.  In the pictures here from the year we stayed with my mother-in-law before heading into the mission field, my nephew joined us.  My kids are all grown now, but they still fondly remember their Charlie Brown Thanksgivings and long to do them again!

The Menu  
Buttered Toast
Jelly Beans
Jello Parfait

That is all!  I sort of winged it with the parfait, mixing prepared strawberry jello and cool whip, topped with a dab of whip and cherry on top. It is a great activity to get the kids involved in. In later years, Brooke would fold the napkins, to this day it is her dinnertime specialty!

Some things are just timeless!

What recipes and Thanksgiving dinner traditions are favorites in your family?


Grab your FREE Thanksgiving planner here:

And visit yesterday's post, "Preparing Heart and Home: Week 1" for some tips on using the planner.


Looking for a gratitude study for the month of November? Grab your FREE download here:

This study is great for private Bible time OR it works just as well for the whole family. It can even become a part of your November homeschool curriculum!

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