Thanksgiving dinner
Special to The Star

My first thought when contemplating the Thanksgiving meal is flight. Flight to somewhere else other than my kitchen.

No sooner than I resolve to flee, the Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving catalog arrives with tantalizing pictures of perfectly roasted birds, gorgeous table settings and endless arrays of Thanksgiving accoutrement. Once again, I am on the hook to produce the perfect Thanksgiving repast.

With Thanksgiving only 15 days away, it is not too soon to start assembling the myriad array of ingredients required for turkey day. There is no such thing as a simple Thanksgiving meal. It is an intricate affair requiring precise advance planning.

The task of preparing the turkey and the accompanying dressing (call it stuffing if you must), is a multi-day, multi-task affair. Cornbread must be made, along with biscuits. Onions and celery must be sautéed and added to the crumbled bread mixture along with eggs, poultry broth and a judicious amount of sage.

It is a culinary truth that dressing is better when mixed the day before and allowed to rest before baking on Thanksgiving Day. It is also a culinary truth that dressing requires fresh cranberry orange relish and giblet gravy made with chopped turkey innards.

Thanksgiving meals of my youth always included a two-layer gelatin salad made with dark purple, canned Bing cherries and black-cherry Jell-O, wedged together with a mixture of cream cheese and pecans. I don’t even like Jell-O, but nostalgia dictates I make this.    

Casseroles are a must. I emphasize the plural here. The Thanksgiving meal would be incomplete without squash casserole laced with crunchy water chestnuts, green been casserole topped with crunchy canned onion rings, the ubiquitous Southern vegetable mac-and-cheese and  the equally ubiquitous candied yams topped with toasted marshmallows.

Then there are desserts. A multiple layer cake along with a couple of pies should do the trick.

What the Pilgrims ate

If we stuck with the traditional meal that the Pilgrims feasted on at  Plymouth in 1621, all we would have to do is throw a few fruits and nuts on the table. The Pilgrims got off easy — at least those who fought off starvation and illness long enough to celebrate a harvest.

Friendly Native American Wampanoag tribe members provided most of the meat for the meal. Pilgrims provided limited sides. Noticeably absent from the feast was dessert (unless stewed pumpkin counts), as the Pilgrims had no sugar. Mashed potatoes were also absent, because Pilgrims believed them to be poisonous.

How Thanksgiving became a holiday

Thanksgiving received no official sanction as a national day until 1789, when President George Washington declared Nov. 26 as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.

Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving  as an official holiday in 1863, setting the date for the holiday as the last Thursday of November.

In recent years, Thanksgiving is viewed less as a day for giving thanks and more as the day marking the start of the holiday shopping frenzy.


Tasting Notes

Wines for the Thanksgiving table

If caving to the precedent of preparing and hosting the Thanksgiving meal — or searching for  libations to fortify oneself for the onslaught of holiday shopping — wine selection has never been easier, thanks to the abundance of stellar American wines available locally for America’s harvest festival.

Stock up on the following versatile wines, all priced under $20 with the exception of the Port. All pair well with an array of foods like those featured at most Thanksgiving meals.    

Sophia Blanc de Blanc. Light, fruity, sparkling wine from world-famous filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. A great starter to serve alongside hors d’oeuvres or to accompany the entire meal.

Foris Pinot Gris 2011 Rogue Valley. From Oregon.  Pleasant, concentrated, fruity alternative to chardonnay. Light and refreshing with sufficient acidity to cut through giblet gravy.

Meiome 2013 Pinot Noir. (Pronounced “may-o-me.”) Excellent and popular medium-weight red. More concentrated than most pinots. Good structure, pleasant on the palate. Especially good with turkey and savory dressing.

Hook & Ladder Estate Bottled Port 2008. Top off the meal with a small glass of this fortified American Port-style wine, which tastes of concentrated dried fruits laced with a vibrant acidity. Great as dessert or an accompaniment for dessert.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com.