I have cooked over 35 Thanksgiving dinners, including one in Germany. The first one sat on an overflowing card table a month after our wedding. This year, alone again, we’ll have a turkey breast, with a slew of sides. The traditional Thanksgiving meal holds no trauma or terrors. It wasn’t always so.
I was five months pregnant and we drove to Houston to be with old friends Jim and Karin for Thanksgiving. When we arrived, Karin announced that we were going to cook the GOURMET MAGAZINE THANKSGIVING DINNER. From scratch.
Cooking From scratch? What does that mean? My grandma didn’t know of any other way. From scratch? From the very beginning. Using raw materials.
Our menu began with pumpkin soup and ended with a grand finale of crème brulèe. In between came turkey with chestnut stuffing. Mashed potatoes, gravy, veggies and an extra special cranberry sauce. It sounded a little intimidating, but we were sure two cooks could carry it off.
We got going early, around 8:00 a.m., planning a 5:00 o’clock dinner. That seemed a bit optimistic.
Husbands and kids were shooed out of the kitchen. This was woman’s work. Since this was Houston, we had to shoo the cockroaches, too.
Fortunately, Karin had already done the shopping. The raw materials were awesome.
A skid load of rock hard chestnuts
Oceans of thick heavy cream
Tons of butter
A stupendous turkey
Five pounds of potatoes
We had one oven, one sink, and a four burner stove. Because this was Houston, there was a second refrigerator in the garage. No Cuisinart back then, but we had a blender and a mixer. By today’s standards, the kitchen would be a relic for Pioneer Village. As old fashioned as cooking from scratch.
We tackled the soup first, and in no time we had orange bits of pumpkin on every surface. Never mind. We cooked the pumpkin that wasn’t stuck to something, added broth and cream and the spices and pureed the soup in the blender. Fantastic! Smooth as silk. Onward.
Dinner will be served at 6:00.
I fixed chestnuts twice that day. For the first time and the last time.
This is the advice on how to roast chestnuts:
Roast in-shell chestnuts in the oven, but you MUST pierce the shell with a small cut with a knife to prevent them from exploding when they cook!
Pierce the shell with a small cut. About as easy as piercing a diamond with a small cut. Many of the cuts were on my hands. From scratch took on a new and more sinister meaning.
Next, place the chestnuts in a heavy cast iron pan. Put the pan in a 400 degree oven for a while.
Remove from oven and peel off the shells with a small knife. Do it while they are still hot, if they cool, they will be harder to peel.
This means you pick up a chestnut that has been in a 400 degree oven with your bare hands. Painful burns topped the cuts and the chestnuts dyed my injured fingers the brown color of old boots.
Dinner will be served at 7:00.
Somehow we got through the chestnuts. Husbands chased over to the quick mark to buy even more butter. Good thing I was eating for two.
The turkey had gone into the oven, late of course, and it became obvious that we would serve dinner about 8:00 p.m. If all went well. Meanwhile, the guests were arriving. The host opened the wine. Probably a bad idea.
Cranberries and veggies were not so complicated, but the crème brulèe was one for the books! We had to make a custard from scratch. Into the pot went the rest of the heavy cream. Cook, stir, “coat the spoon.” We poured the custard into the serving dish. Karin sifted heaps of brown sugar over the top and we tucked the dessert into the fridge which now had a “feeding the multitudes” look.
More friends arrived. The kids were starving and we had to offer nibbles and snacks.
We served our scrumptious meal at 9:00.
It was the best tasting thanksgiving dinner ever! Mostly I was giving thanks that the cooking was over. We had survived the ordeal. We were full, sated, as stuffed as the turkey.
Time for the dessert! At 10:00 p.m., we took the crème brulèe out of the fridge and popped it under the broiler to caramelize the sugar. This is a say a prayer and have another glass of wine moment. The cook is hoping she won’t take a melted soggy mess to the table.
Voila! Just like the photo! A spectacular finale. Somehow, the guests made room for our masterpiece. The dinner was a huge success.
I’ve cooked many Gourmet recipes since then, but I never made another Gourmet Thanksgiving Menu. No more pumpkins, certainly no more chestnuts, ever.