Thanksgiving is THE American holiday. Over 90% of us gather at the table, regardless of family background or religion. It is our universal holiday and the ultimate food holiday. Some of us are already plotting our strategy for this year’s Big Food Day
Oh, you say, Super Bowl. Lot of people, lot of nachos and chip and wings. But real food? No, our national food holiday is Thanksgiving.
Which is why I remain so amazed that if you search for Thanksgiving cookbooks, the results are a bit strange. New books do appear, but they are often on Kindle or just paperback. Good authors, to be sure, but not prominent ones. If you want a Thanksgiving cookbook with the substance of a 20-pound turkey, you have to go back in time.
Suzi and I have four classic Thanksgiving cookbooks by authors of substance. Each year we return again to these sources in creating a new feast:
- The Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan, 2001
- The New Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan, 2008
- The Thanksgiving Cookbook by Holly Garrison, 1991
- Thanksgiving Dinner by Anthony Dias Kathryn K. Blue, 1990
Yes, we have resources here that are twenty, even thirty, years old and become more valuable as time passes. The challenge of that Thanksgiving feast is the “fixed points” in the menu. Most of us would not sit at a table that did not include roast turkey, gravy, stuffing and a mound of mashed potatoes. So what else is there to do?
There are more ways to roast that turkey than to skin a cat. Oh, maybe not the best comparison I’ve ever made. Gravy making is a challenge and there are a multitude of recipe ideas. Stuffing? My goodness, you could make a different stuffing every year of your life. And the mashed potatoes? Well, there’s the option of cream cheese, or chives, or even some onion. And you really should consider the ultimate French method: equal amounts of potatoes and butter.
I’ve never done that 50:50 combo. I can’t bring myself to it. But I have done 75:25 and it’s rich and will send you in search of seconds and even thirds.
To entice you to check out these books, I’m going to start posting my earlier cookbook reviews of these four gems beginning with The Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan. It’s a book you’ll want and it’s still out there on Amazon.
This review is pre-covid, when we lived both in the Catskills and Manhattan and were always in search of “missing” cookbooks. Now, we are just in the Catskills so finding something is easier. We just have books in our kitchen. And in the basement, in three different places. Or in our office upstairs.
Actually, I found all four of the books yesterday and they are staying upstairs with me. Forever. Thanksgiving too important to stress over.
And if you suffer from Thanksgiving meal preparation distress, take one of these books and call me in the morning. I promise you’ll be fine.
“Where is it?” my wife asked. Her voice displayed urgency but not panic. Suzen never panics. Well, that’s not true but I don’t want to get myself in deeper trouble than normal. And in this case, I was getting panicky myself.
“I’ll find it,” I said. I tried to be reassuring, but the fact was that I was worried. Where was the damn book? Suzen and I keep our cookbooks in more than one place, much more than one:
- Our front room in Manhattan
- Her Manhattan office
- My Manhattan office
- The Manhattan basement
- The kitchen in Olive, a hundred miles from Manhattan
- The basement in Olive
- Our joint office in Olive
Our favorite Thanksgiving book was somewhere, and we needed it to prepare menu ideas for this holiday. We are off to Tennessee to feast with friends and we need to bring recipes and the very best recipes are in this book and the book is …
I found it. Basement. Olive. Not the bookshelf I first thought, but one close by. I wiped away the little traces of sweat from my forehead and walked confidently upstairs to Suzen.
“We should buy another copy,” she said.
Maybe you should, too? Or at least a first copy. Published in 2001, The Thanksgiving Table, is the just the resource you want to embrace with both arms. By today’s standards, it is a slight book at less than 200 pages. But in those pages you will find recipes to make this Thanksgiving deliciously exceptional.
Never done Thanksgiving in style before? This book takes you by the hand and walks you all the way through: from buying the turkey, to making stock, to gravy and dressings, to different ways to graciously roast that bird, and even to how to have leftovers you will love the next day.
There are timelines here to take you through the meal preparation, day by day, hour by hour. Cooking for four people is one thing. Twenty is another. Diane can get you through either way.
There are even clever ways to decorate you festive table, so that the wonderful food here is set amidst the elegance it deserves.
You’ll find many menu options here. For example your table could shine with these choices:
- Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Cranberries and Walnuts
- Butter Rubbed Roast Turkey with Apple Cider Glaze
- Giblet Gravy
- Cheddar and Jalapeno Cornbread Stuffing
- Cranberry Salsa
- Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Gingersnap Crumb Crust
- And on Friday, you can continue with:
- Turkey Potpie with a Biscuit Crust
- Chocolate Gingerbread with Sugar-Glazed Apples
Diane meant this to be her definitive take on Thanksgiving. But just seven years later she wrote The NEW Thanksgiving Table which both updates the original and incorporates many new regional ideas she absorbed as she traveled all across the United States. Both are wonderful books. Next year, I’ll review The NEW one, which is already six years old.
And, in the coming days before this Thanksgiving, you will see a half dozen recipes here from both books, giving you an accelerated head start for your holiday cooking. Diane is an amazing, charming writer. Her recipes work flawlessly, and you would enjoy having and using any of her many cookbooks. But you should start with The Thanksgiving Table. It is a classic, as timeless as the Thanksgiving holiday itself.