Thanksgiving 2010 was a wonderful day at the VOGT Family TreeHouse. We hosted the feast at our Woburn home, considering briefly the idea of hosting Thanksgiving at the Ballot Box in Newcastle Maine (with the strains of Over the River and Through the Woods echoing faintly in our thoughts), but realizing that the Massachusetts friends and relatives would probably not be able to make the trek north for a Thursday holiday (nor would they probably want to!), and our daughters and son-in-law had to work the next day (as did we), we chose to host at the southern location. The Ballot Box was briefly considered, but was wisely put aside for this year. Someday, but probably not soon.
After 36+ years of marriage and two kids, Lynn and I have finally figured out how to host events like this with minimal stress. The secret for us is an old adage from the past; “Many Hands Make Light Work!” We enlisted the aid of our live-in daughter for around-the-house preparations, and we delegated a lot of the food preparations to the invited guests, with us taking care of the turkey, the gravy, and the mashed potatoes! We had lots to do for sure, but it was manageable and we started early. I’m always in charge of the turkey from start to finish, stuffing and all, which I prepared Tuesday night this year, rather than staying up until 2am making the stuffing the night before.
At least in my view, the single biggest chore for Thanksgiving in our family has always been making the traditional family-recipe stuffing (a meal in itself), which can be a 3 to 4 hour project. The “old” way I used to do it, which was how my father used to do it, was to toast 3-4 long loaves of cheap white bread, dice the toast into cubes, mix the dry seasonings into the dry toast, then put that aside and chop two packages of celery (stalks AND leaves) and 2 medium onions, then sauté the celery and onions in a pound of melted butter for maybe ten minutes, then put that aside and scramble-fry 3 or 4 packages/tubes of Jimmy Dean REGULAR pork sausage, then dump everything into the bread crumbs and stir it with 2-3 cups of turkey broth liquid until thoroughly mixed (which takes longer than you might think). When making enough stuffing for a large turkey (24 pounds this year), this concoction requires a LARGE pot because the dry diced bread takes up a large volume until the liquids get mixed in. This year I used a giant stainless-steel lobster pot for the final mixing container.
In recent years I’ve taken to saving time by buying the Pepperidge Farm dry diced bread for stuffing in a bag (I often use as many as 3-4 bags for a Thanksgiving batch), and eliminating having to toast and dice the bread. This year, though, we apparently waited too long to buy the diced bread, as there was none to be found in the two grocery stores Lynn visited, so she reverted to the “old” way, bought 4 long loaves of junky white bread, and proceeded to toast all the bread for me before I got home from work Tuesday. All that was left was to dice the toast, collect it in the lobster pot, and cook the celery/onions and sausage.
Of course, stuffing the bird is a chore, but cooking the bird is a crap-shoot! How long do you cook a 24 lb stuffed turkey? The guide that came with the turkey said 5-7 hours for a 24 lb bird, but two hours is a big window of uncertainty to try to plan a meal around! Do I plan for five hours? Seven hours? Something else? I initially decided on the seven hour estimate, because a stuffed bird should take longer to cook than an unstuffed bird, but I wasn’t sure if the times were based on stuffed or not! We were planning on sitting down to eat at 3 pm, which meant I needed to take the bird out by 2 pm to give it time to sit before carving, and to free up the oven for any other dishes that needed to be cooked or heated. Based on that estimate I planned on popping the bird in the oven for a 7-hour sauna at 325° so it would need to be put in the oven at 7 am. At the last minute, though, when I re-read the instructions, I noticed that the 5-7 hour cooking estimate was for a 24+ lb turkey, the PLUS sign indicating 24 pounds or more! So I re-estimated on-the-fly and decided on a 6-hour sauna. I targeted taking the turkey out of the oven at 2pm, and damned if I didn’t pull it out exactly at 2pm! That NEVER happens!
Hors d’oeuvres consisted of stuffed celery, shrimp and cocktail sauce, stuffed mushrooms, and olives and pickles. We were playing big-band music over the internet radio connected to the stereo all day. There were 12 guests for dinner, so that morning Audrey and I set our folding banquet table up against the end of the formal dining room table, extending the table out into the living room. We were able to seat everyone around a single (albeit makeshift) table, banquet-style. We sat down to eat at about 3 pm, and a fine time was had by all. The fresh local turkey was delicious, as were all the side dishes (mashed potatoes, stuffing, baked squash, broccoli and cauliflower in melted cheese). Our dessert table held pumpkin tiramisu, apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie, a chocolate cheesecake, and Italian pizzelle.