This year, I am hosting my very first family Thanksgiving. My in-laws are coming to my little Brooklyn apartment, where I may or may not have enough plates to serve 8 people dinner. I’ve hosted smaller Thanksgiving dinners, but this is the first time I have made a spreadsheet to stay organized.
Since moving to New York, my husband and I have gone back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving exactly once. It was our first year in the city, and after a hectic return trip, we both were filled with dread when we realized we would have to repeat the holiday travel craziness three weeks later for Christmas. No thank you!
Since we resolved to stay local for Thanksgivings, we have had mostly chill and relaxed holidays with just the two of us. I usually tackle a cooking project (not usually Thanksgiving related), try a new recipe for stuffing, and we enjoy an awesome staycation. Once, we hopped on a train to spend the weekend with friends in New Haven, and then they visited us the next year. Once, a friend of my sister’s had just moved to NYC for work and couldn’t go too far because she needed to work the next day. While we always miss our families, we enjoy the peaceful weekend as well.
All this said… I am SO excited to host. Since the plans came together, I have been thinking a lot about first thanksgivings. I’ve often heard that the first thanksgiving had a menu completely unfamiliar to what we have today. No potatoes. No stuffing. Probably no turkey? What?
The “first thanksgiving” was also not all that special of a day, and it turns out, the actual event is even a point of contention with other tales of the “real” first thanksgiving. In 1621, a “thanksgiving” happened several times per year and was a day filled with prayer and showing gratitude. (The first gratitude practice?) The idea of a “Thanksgiving Day” is a little more modern — Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863. The food media has been writing about new ways to cook a turkey ever since.
And I am here for it. Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday. I like a challenge to create a menu of new and interesting dishes while working in the framework of the traditional meal. I have to admit I prefer the more modern menu: stuffing is one of my top 5 foods. But the idea of creating a menu inspired by the event at the core of my favorite holiday was exciting to me. Rather than a turkey, the main course was likely a seafood item. The Wampanoag and the Pilgrims likely ate clams, lobster, and cod. (Classic New England, amirite?) There weren’t any wheat, dairy, or potato products, but they did have lots of herbs and The Three Sisters – corn, squash, and beans. When planted together, these three vegetables thrive in a way that is difficult for them to do on their own. This technique was used by Native American groups across North America, and was likely in play in Plymouth.
The following menu is loosely inspired by what is traditionally thought of the “first thanksgiving”. Since nuts herbs were available, the menu features pestos to bring flavor to dishes, since butter and spices weren’t really in the picture yet.
1621 Thanksgiving Menu
- Slow Roasted Cod with Pesto
- Fresh Cranberry Beans with Greens
- Roasted Delicata Squash with Pesto
- Herb Corn Muffins
Since, 1621 the Thanksgiving menu has changed a lot. Of course there is turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. Some regions have macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie. Some have green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.
For my first year as Thanksgiving host, I’ll be using a more modern menu. The physical limits of my Brooklyn kitchen and limited cookware I can store are a big driver of the menu — a whole turkey won’t fit in my oven at the same time as stuffing, so I’m making two turkey roulades. Mashed potatoes will get a twist, and the vegetables will still resemble vegetables when they are on the table.
Writing a food blog means I got to do a test-run of a lot of different dishes before the big event. While all of the recipes are great (in my humble opinion), I won’t be making all of them for Thanksgiving. For real though, I can’t serve a soup — eight people are eating, and I only own six bowls.
Kelli’s 2018 Thanksgiving Menu
- Turkey Roulade
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Northern Spy’s Kale Salad (recipe on Food52)
- Maple Dijon Brussels Sprouts (recipe is still in my brain!)
- Herb Stuffing with Butternut Squash and Apples (recipe still in my brain!)
- Cranberry Sauce
- Parkerhouse Rolls from Hot Bread Kitchen with Compound Butter
- Brandy Acorn Squash Pie (recipe from Savory Simple)
Here are some of the recipes that would be great for any Thanksgiving table, but due to the space, equipment, and preferences of the fam, won’t be at this year’s gathering:
What are your Thanksgiving go-tos? Are there any traditional items that you prefer to leave out? Who makes the best pie in your family? Leave a comment below!