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.