Thanksgiving Feast, Part I
By Julie Badger Jensen

It is the only American holiday officially centered around a meal.

Is your greatest Thanksgiving wish to sit down and relax with family and friends? Your wish can come true. Finding a few hours for planning and preparing during the weeks before Thanksgiving will make this cherished day thankfully simple and joyful for everyone, including you. The following article is Part I of November’s two-part plan for Thanksgiving. It features those items that can be done well in advance. You’ll be grateful later.

In the spirit of the season we celebrate in gratitude for our blessings, for family and friends and for the harvest . . . AROUND THE TABLE. Subtle spirituality, relished relaxation and the sharing of a meal like no other . . . this is Thanksgiving. The beautiful ritual of giving to the less fortunate or simply taking time to express appreciation to someone in our lives can add joy and meaning. Whether a large spirited gathering or a quiet fireside dinner for two, Thanksgiving is one of the most cherished of days.

It is the only American holiday officially centered around a meal. We anticipate the aroma of turkey browning in the oven, fragrant with onions and sage, and piping hot rolls . . . and we treasure the traditions. Though we don’t have a printed menu of the first Thanksgiving, almost 400 years ago, we do know that turkey, cranberries, winter squash, beans, corn, pumpkin, and maple syrup would have been readily available and almost certainly found their way to that first Thanksgiving table. Candied vegetables were tradition from earliest times, a throw-back to the time when a root cellar was necessary to make it through a harsh winter. Succotash originated with native Indians who mixed corn, beans, and salt pork. These familiar, time-honored foods are sure to grace many holiday tables.

Not all of us travel “over the river and through the woods” at Thanksgiving, but in every area of the country gratitude takes the form of an abundance of beloved, delectable foods . . . treasures of the region. Just as the pilgrims welcomed new foods, you may wish to try some new recipes along with the old. Surprise adds sparkle to the festivities. Just try out the recipe in advance to make sure it is a surprise your family and friends will enjoy.

However you spend the holiday, hopefully it will be shared with those who matter most, and time will be taken to count your blessings and give thanks as hands are held and heads are bowed in prayer AROUND THE TABLE.

Can be done days or weeks in advance

  • Plan your menu. Have in mind things guests could bring, if they offer, such as appetizers, vegetables, salads or desserts.
  • Invite guests.
  • Make out shopping list. Purchase non-perishable items. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving Eve.
  • Decide on table space and number of chairs. If needed, arrange for more.
  • Give out family assignments for getting the house ready . . . vacuuming, windows, floors, dusting, etc.
  • If children are coming, round up some books, games and toys to keep them entertained. Let guests help with this.
  • If having a program, make assignments early.
  • Let children and grandchildren make placecards, favors, decorate napkins, etc.
  • Prepare do-ahead foods and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Decide on fresh or frozen turkey. A frozen one will take several days to thaw and take up space. If having fresh, order ahead.
  • Consider seasonal fruits and vegetables as centerpieces or gather branches, dried foliage, or berries.
  • Make lists of things to do. Have fun crossing them off as completed.

Made simple


Hot Tomato Drink

* Chewy Cheese Puffs

* Stuffed Mushrooms


Roasted Turkey

* Savory Sausage Stuffing

* Crimson Cranberry Sauce

Marvelous Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

* Feather-Light Overnight Rolls

Indian Succotash

Candied Yams and Apples


Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

* Caramel Pecan Cheesecake

Apple Pie in a Brown Bag

* Items featured in Thanksgiving Part I. Other items to appear in Thanksgiving Part II in the middle of November.

Chewy Cheese Puffs
Perfect accompaniment for the tomato drink

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. paprika

Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

1 cup flour

Blend together butter, cheese, salt, paprika and cayenne pepper. Stir in flour. Roll into about 30 balls. Put on baking sheet about two inches apart. Bake at 400 degrees for

10-15 minutes. Serve hot.

These can be made ahead. Freeze on baking sheet. Then store in plastic bags in the freezer. Warm through.

Stuffed Mushrooms
Sure to be a hit. A terrific blend of flavors.

Can be prepared and frozen ahead.

12-oz. sausage, cooked, drained, and crumbled

8-oz. pkg. cream cheese

2 lbs. fresh mushrooms, medium size

Brown sausage and add cream cheese. Wash and remove stems from mushrooms. Let drain. Chop the stems and mix in with sausage mixture. Fill mushroom caps with mixture. Cook at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

If making ahead, put mushrooms on tray and freeze. Once frozen, you can then put in a plastic bag until ready to thaw and warm through.

Savory Sausage Stuffing
A star of the feast

1/2 lb. sausage, cooked and drained

3/4 cup butter, melted

2 4-oz. cans mushrooms, drained (save liquid to add later)

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 cup finely diced celery

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

2 Tbs. fresh sage, finely chopped (or 1 Tbs. dried)

12 cups bread, broken into small pieces

2 apples (optional)

Melt butter. Add drained mushrooms and onions. Simmer until tender. Add other ingredients. Mix with bread. Add sausage and blend. If desired, add grated apples just before stuffing into turkey. Do not stuff dressing into turkey until ready to bake.

Can be frozen ahead and thawed one day in advance in refrigerator. Add apples just before stuffing.

Crimson Cranberry Sauce (whole berry)
Sweet yet tart

Enhances the flavor of turkey and stuffing

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 package (12-oz) fresh or frozen cranberries

In a saucepan mix sugar and water, stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil; add cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce heat. Boil gently about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Makes about 2 1/4 cups. Can be made several days ahead and refrigerated or if made weeks in advance can be frozen.

Crimson Cranberry Sauce (jellied)

Prepare as directed above. Before cooling, place a wire mesh strainer over a mixing bowl. Pour contents of saucepan into strainer. Mash cranberries with the back of a spoon, frequently scraping the outside of the strainer, until no pulp is left. Stir contents of bowl. Pour into serving container. Cover and cool at room temperature. Refrigerate or freeze until serving time. Makes 1 cup.

Feather Light Overnight Rolls
Light and irresistible

Can freeze rolled dough

1 cup water

1 cup butter (2 squares)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. salt

1 cup cold water

4 beaten eggs

2 pkgs. yeast (1/4 oz. each)

1/2 cup water

7 1/2 cups flour

Bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add butter, sugar, and salt. Remove from heat. Pour into large plastic container. Add 1 cup cold water. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water (not hot). When first mixture is lukewarm, add yeast mixture and beaten eggs. Stir briefly. Add flour and stir together. Cover container with lid and refrigerate overnight. When ready to roll out, divide in thirds. Flour surface of breadboard. Roll dough out in a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Spread dough lightly with butter. Cut dough down the middle. Shape each half into about six triangles. Roll each up beginning at the wide end to form crescent shape. Oil baking sheet. Put on 3 baking sheets (about 12 per sheet). Let rise about 4 hours. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes.

If doing ahead, freeze after dough has been shaped into crescent rolls and placed on cookie sheets. Once frozen, put into plastic freezer bags until ready to use. Return them to cookie sheets and let rise about 6 hours or until light. Proceed with previous baking instructions.

Caramel Pecan Cheesecake
Sensational toasted pecan crust and caramel filling

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup pecans, chopped

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup caramel topping

3 eggs

1 Tbs. vanilla

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup caramel topping

Pecan halves, to garnish

In a mixing bowl combine crumbs, pecans, brown sugar and melted butter. Pat onto bottom of an 8-inch springform pan. In a larger mixing bowl beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in the 1/2 cup caramel topping. Add eggs and milk; beat just until blended. Turn mixture into crust. Bake in 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes until center is set. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Combine sour cream and remaining caramel topping; spoon over cheesecake. Loosen sides of cheesecake from pan with spatula. Cool 30 minutes more; remove sides of pan. Cool. Chill. Garnish with pecan halves before serving. Serves 8. Freezes well.


Return to Top of Article


    Daily news, articles, videos and podcasts sent straight to your inbox.