This is the final countdown to Thanksgiving. Six days to go! I went to the grocery store yesterday, just to get some milk, and was practically trampled by stressed-out shoppers with carts full of turkeys, aluminum pans and stacks of canned green beans and pumpkin purée. Here are a couple of things to remember:
Make your pie dough now. Melissa Clark’s All-butter Pie Crust recipe keeps in the freezer for three months; defrost it in the fridge overnight before you need to bake.
After writing out your Thanksgiving menu, divide your grocery list into perishables and non-perishables. Get those non-perishables this weekend, if you can! Join the stressed-out folks at your grocery store!
This is one of my favorite cautionary tales of Thanksgiving. I have since learned to keep it simple. Don’t promise to deliver a dish to the feast if you haven’t made it before. It is perfectly fine to buy items to bring – time is short and we have enough demands on our already-fraying nerves. We are not Martha, and we do not have a staff. And not everything is made to be photographed, Instagrammed or put on Threads. Life is messy. Got it?
I lived in London the year after I was graduated from Washington College, with another WC alum and one of her childhood chums. We were sight-seeing by day, and waitressing in Covent Garden restaurants by night. It was the end of the 70s, and there were Mohawks galore, and cute punky girls wearing Doc Martens, sporting safety pin jewels.
We had been invited to a posh Thanksgiving dinner and were responsible for bringing a dish to share. Our assignment, as the token Americans, was to bring scalloped potatoes. That seemed simple enough. But we were kitchen novices. Our spaghetti sauce had sent boys with potential scurrying from our flat – because we thought chopped onions were an excellent thickener for the runny tomato sauce. Fully aware of our limitations, and these being the olden days before the Internet and smart phones, we set off to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s library, in search of a helpful cookbook. At least we were smart enough to have library cards.
We hauled the weighty Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery and Household Management back to our flat to do our research. Mrs. Beeton’s book, unlike many of Nigella’s or Ina Garten’s friendly and photo-heavy volumes today, was complicated and bewildering to us. Illustrations? Few and far between. Breadcrumbs? Bechamel sauce? Grams instead of cups? And the cooking times were distressingly vague, too. 1 1/2 to 2 hours? That could make the difference between half raw potatoes and a dishful of burnt glue!
After thumbing through the book we finally realized that Mrs. Beeton did not have an easy-to-follow recipe for scalloped potatoes. We were left to our own devices; young women who thought chopped onions were the salvation for watery spaghetti sauce have no business trying to invent scalloped potatoes. We didn’t even have a potato peeler! We hacked the raw potatoes into hunks, covered them with ropes of processed gloopy cheese, and too much milk, and shoved them in our tiny oven. Our scalloped potatoes were a lumpy, sloshing mess.
We somehow transported the now-cooled baking dish (where did we ever find one?) on our knees on the Tube ride to Chiswick. Once we had arrived and said our hellos, we warmed the potatoes up it an intimidating Aga range, which did nothing to improve the potatoes’ appearance. Those sad-looking, gray potatoes were inedible. We were not sure of the etiquette for this situation. Our dish remained untouched by the discerning Brits who were already suspicious of anything American: particularly loud young American women who perhaps drank a bit too much of the Beaujolais Nouveau… Our hearts were in the right place, though, and we helped with the washing up, before retiring to drink port and smoke cigars with the former RAF pilots, who were telling the best stories we had ever heard.
The lesson here: if asked to bring something specific and complicated for Thanksgiving, and you are pressed for time, see what your grocery store or bakery has to offer. You might be surprised. Otherwise keep it simple. Or avail yourself of internet videos. Scalloped Potatoes It is amazing what you can find these days. “Dear Mrs. Butler, I hope it is not too late to apologize for the scalloped potatoes we brought to your very nice dinner party. Thanks again for inviting us.”
The garlic is a lovely, unexpected flavor with the creamy potatoes. And the layers of grated Gruyere melt in a divine fashion; the cheese was evident in every bite. The RAF chaps would have enjoyed these potatoes.
Good luck with your Thanksgiving planning, lists, travel and cooking. We will be having old-fashioned, lumpy mashed potatoes once again this year, but we will be enjoying a very fancy, store-bought chocolate pie. I can’t wait!
“The more we peeled, the more peel there seemed to be left on; by the time we had got all the peel off and all the eyes out, there was no potato left – at least none worth speaking of.”
― Jerome K. Jerome