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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: November 2023 | Thanksgiving

Making Thanksgiving a Family Memory

Cathy Stricklin Krendl

Making Thanksgiving a Family Memory

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When I was growing up, my father, mother, two siblings, and I would drive “over the river and through the woods,” that is, over a highway packed with traffic and through 80-degree weather, to my grandmother’s house.  I was very close to my grandmother and idolized her. However, I recognized then and now that she was a horrible cook.  She believed in well-done, that is, dried out chicken, and canned everything else.

When it came time for my husband and I to decide the kind of Thanksgiving we wanted for our three daughters, we decided to make it a time when all of us could be involved and participate as a family. We would not fly to Texas, my home, or Ohio, his home, during the busiest travel days of the year and in the middle of a very busy time for our transactional, business practice. We would not have a Thanksgiving when one or two of us did all the cooking, and all our daughters did was eat. Hence, we decided that all of us who wished would cook dinner together and that we would use as many fresh ingredients and easy-to-assemble dishes as we could.  No cans!


I firmly refused to bake a frozen turkey.  It would be dry and require two or three days to thaw. If I had to cook a turkey, it must be fresh, never frozen.  My husband hated turkey and could only tolerate a capon. First question.  How am I supposed to find a fresh capon in Denver, Colorado in November? I was in luck.  The butcher a few blocks from our house would find me a fresh capon IF I gave him two weeks’ notice. I agreed IF I could pick it up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to avoid the crush of people who would be at the shop picking up their turkeys the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Next question. What would we serve so that all our daughters could make something?  We decided a capon (of course, cooked by me), dressing, gravy, green beans with garlic and almonds, cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin and mincemeat pies.

How could our children participate? This would change every year as they grew up and were able to handle more complex recipes, especially accurate measuring. I am not an ”add spices until it works” cook. I need to measure! Thanksgiving would also work better if the “cooking” were spread over three to four days.


We decided to make cranberry relish. I cannot stand canned cranberries, and I am a diabetic. All we needed were fresh cranberries, two oranges, and a blender. Perfect for daughters three and under. I would sort the cranberries, more of a challenge than it appears because many of them needed to be tossed.  All three daughters could wash the eatable cranberries and put them in an unplugged blender. They could also add orange slices after I peeled two oranges.  It didn’t matter how many cranberries or how many orange slices.  I had established the quantity by giving them only eatable cranberries and only two oranges.  They liked to be able to decide for themselves the number of cranberries and orange slices. Then I would plug in, and turn on, the blender, and they would watch, mesmerized by the process that turned whole cranberries and orange slices into a relish.  Monday was a perfect day to make relish because the relish should be refrigerated for two or three days to taste best.  Note we used fresh ingredients, dishes that were kid friendly, and no refined sugar.


Make mincemeat pie. Making that pie from scratch was way too much trouble, and the alternative, boxed mincemeat, was not very appetizing. Fortunately, the butcher who furnished the capon also made mincemeat from scratch.  Because I had to pick up fresh ingredients and the capon on Tuesday, I didn’t mind adding mincemeat “made from scratch,” just not by me.  Putting together mincemeat pie was easy.  I did not make crust from scratch. Instead, I purchased refrigerated crust that could be rolled out.  The five-year-old could roll, and the other two could put the prepared mincemeat in the shell. One of our daughters who hated raisins would painstakingly remove raisins before she would eat the rest.  However, she did like to make a pie decoration from the remaining crust.  Sometimes, it was the letter of her first name, sometime it was a pumpkin, and sometimes it was unrecognizable.


On this day we made pumpkin pie and corn muffins for the stuffing. When our daughters were under five, they participated by dumping the ingredients I measured into bowls. They especially liked to make pumpkin pie because there were more ingredients to dump.  I gave them measured ingredients, especially measured spices.  Otherwise, our taste buds would revolt. As our daughters grew older and after they had learned to read recipes and measure, they could make the corn bread and pumpkin pie when they wished and without my supervision.


The big day was here! I was always in charge of the capon until my youngest daughter took over when she was in high school.  She could make it far juicier than I.

When our daughters were very young, they liked to participate by making the sweet potatoes. I would bake the sweet potatoes in aluminum foil. When the potatoes were cool, the girls at that very young age could remove the skin and put the potatoes in a bowl without much supervision.  Warning.  It could get messy, but they also need to clean up the mess. Then I would give them raisins, pineapple, orange juice, and pecans. I made sure to give them the maximum amount of each ingredient, but they could decide how much of each ingredient to use. I could allow them this freedom because the amount of these ingredients did not matter. However, I did make sure they received measured amounts of the various spices. See above.

The challenge was finding something else that a daughter three or under could do while her big sisters were cooking other dishes. I compromised and bought crescent rolls in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Our young daughter could roll them with her little hands all by herself, which was always important to our very independent daughters.

I found other things young daughters could do. They could snap the ends of green beans, and I could do the rest. They could also help with gravy.  My husband liked cream gravy, which was simply flour, butter, salt, and milk.  The key was stirring. As soon as I believed they wouldn’t burn themselves, I let them dump in the ingredients and stir the gravy. They were masters by the time they were 8.

A daughter had to be 10 before I let her cut and sauté the onions and celery for the dressing.  I did not wish to go to the emergency room on Thanksgiving. However, they enjoyed crumbling the corn muffins and dried bread when they were very young. At age 12, our middle daughter decided to take over the dressing.  She could decide the ingredients as well as prepare the dressing for baking. (I did not stuff.) She had complete latitude except for spices. Again, using too much or too little spices was a guaranteed way to ruin dressing.  When our daughter learned to measure accurately, she had total control of the dressing.

Of course, good food deserves a good table and appropriate dress. The girls always set the table, using my best china and crystal.  If they broke something, I didn’t care.  Thanksgiving togetherness and fun were much more important than dishes. When they were in elementary school, they got to display as centerpieces and wall decorations the inevitable pumpkins and turkeys that they had drawn in school.   Then we would all dress up and have wine for Dad and Mom and sparkling cider for the girls.

Happily, ever after

Now that they are adults, our daughters each has her own family Thanksgiving, and I travel among them to enjoy the day and their excellent cooking. Our middle daughter roasts and stuffs an actual turkey that requires two or three days of thawing and makes her own dressing.  She names her turkey (the first was named Roberta), and they are much better than the capons I used to bake.  Our younger daughter makes a far superior gravy than I ever did, and our older daughter’s pies put me to shame.  Our oldest grandson even makes his own crust. Regretfully, mincemeat pie bit the dust; apple pie prevailed. However, Thanksgiving as family time lives, even happily ever after.