Kenyons’ Thanksgiving is probably like yours: THE EXACT SAME FOOD EVERY YEAR!


Pam Kenyon - CROPPED.JPG
WAUKEE, Iowa, Nov. 20, 2022 — Like the gravy sliding from its pool atop the mashed potatoes toward the green bean casserole (which is OK), or toward the wild rice casserole (which is also OK), or toward Grandma Joy’s red Jell-o salad (which is NOT ok), most all of my childhood Thanksgiving memories run together.

I had a large, extended family. People traveled to make sure they were at the table. Lots of cousins and aunts and uncles. Women bustling into the house with their three-cornered scarves holding their permanents in place, cigarettes usually dangling from their lips – lots of 13×9 pans with tight foil tops.

They’d take their secret treasures to the kitchen, even though we all knew what everyone brought, and what would be on the table, because, WE ATE EXACTLY THE SAME FOOD EVERY YEAR.

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Making sure no essentials are forgotten.

It wasn’t until Greg Kenyon and I were married, hosting our very first family Thanksgiving, that my memories started to take hold. There’s a tremendous anxiety attached to hosting — especially when it’s your first.

You might recall the Butterball commercial from 1984: “Remember, Marianne’s cooking her first turkey, and we know it will be dry!” They were wrong is all I have to say.

And what I have learned over these 39 years of hosting Thanksgiving or participating in a family member’s Thanksgiving meal prep in a meaningful way – is that WE EAT EXACTLY THE SAME FOOD EVERY YEAR. And that’s because food IS memories. And I know you know what I’m talking about.

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Greg Kenyon starting the deep fat frying of the turkey.

Right now, think of the top 3 to 5 things you expect to have every year and hold up your hand if this rings true for you, too:

  • The turkey, which we have been deep-frying for about the last 15 years. (Mainly because it frees up space in the oven!) And to ensure safety, a college friend who is a former assistant fire chief in Berwyn, Illinois, texts me EVERY YEAR to ask if we are frying, and to see the set up in the driveway to ensure all safety measures are in place.
  • The mashed potatoes and gravy. Peel the full 5- or 10-lb. bag of russet potatoes, depending on the number of guests. Add milk, sour cream, garlic. And then, sink one, maybe two sticks of butter down into the center. Add salt and pepper. Dive in.
  • Green bean casserole. And I mean the one on the back of the French’s onion ring container (hands up, please). If we want to get really sassy, we go with frozen green beans vs. canned. This year, I’m going off book and adding cheddar cheese!
  • Wild rice casserole. This is so so good, and a staple from Greg’s mom’s kitchen. I’ve been making now for as long as I can remember and it is well-loved.
  • Stuffing. Forever, my sister Patty liked only Stove-Top stuffing. Period. So I would make my own, which takes forever. And she whipped hers together the 45 seconds before we sat down. And every time, her serving bowl would be empty.
  • Red Jell-o salad. We could go for hours on why this is called a salad; I truly do not know. But this was also a Greg’s mom’s recipe, and it is probably the most difficult thing I do, because it’s LAYERED! And you have to mix in the jellied cranberry (yes, out of the can), and then the lemon Jell-o gets mixed with Cool Whip and layered on the top. It’s the one thing I know my grandsons will eat.
  • Rolls. We always assigned this to my niece Jill, because we knew she couldn’t mess it up.

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Buttering up the potatoes.

So, one year, I decide to go “off book” with the mashed potatoes. Peeling all those potatoes was such a chore, and I decided to do buffet potatoes. Everyone loves them, and so easy. It’s a 13×9 casserole, what is not to love?

It’s 2002 or 2003, my daughter Samantha is home from college, and she, more than anyone else in our family LOVES mashed potatoes. Lives for food. Loves food. Loves to talk about what she’s going to have at her next meal as she is eating a meal – I mean serious food fiend. She has come into the kitchen to help take food to the table. She spies the buffet potatoes, and she stops cold: “What are these?” The look on her face is sheer horror. “Where are the mashed potatoes?”  

“You love these,” I say.

“I do, Mom,” but truly, with tears streaming down her cheeks she says, “Thanksgiving calls for the mashed.”

And so – we called “delay of game” as dinner was paused for approximately 40 minutes while we peeled and boiled the russet potatoes. Added milk, sour cream, garlic. And then, sank two sticks of butter down into the center. Salt and pepper.

To this day, when we talk about the Thanksgiving menu, like we have been doing since about August, without missing a beat, someone yells out, “Thanksgiving calls for the mashed!”

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Another perfect turkey.

Pam Kenyon, the author of our Thanksgiving column, is retired from management at Meredith Publishing, based in Des Moines.  You can comment on this column in the handy form below here, or write directly to her at

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Daughter Samantha Kenyon Holman, happy with this casserole.

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What a meal!

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Greg and son Nick Kenyon.

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The whole Kenyon Thanksgiving crowd in a recent year.


6 thoughts on “Kenyons’ Thanksgiving is probably like yours: THE EXACT SAME FOOD EVERY YEAR!

  1. This is a column we can all cherish and read to our family gatherings each and every year going forward. Thank you for sharing this story — and your talent for writing. Personally I’m hoping you have another one about Christmas ready for publishing here on December 18th. ❤️

    Mary Riche, Des Moines and Jefferson

  2. Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends has always been my favorite meal to plan and cook. And you are right, IT ALWAYS IS THE SAME MEAL PLAN! For over 40 years, I did this until the pandemic in 2020, when Doug and I ate our meal, by ourselves, on a card table in front of our fireplace with a warm fire in the family room. We shared the food — turkey, dressing, rolls, sweet potato casserole, son-in-law BJ’s famous mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and desserts with our other Centerville families — so we all had PLENTY, just not their presence. Now, Sarah, BJ, Anna Cate and Molly are driving to Arkansas to meet BJ’s brother Greg and his sweet family who live in Texas. Also gathering together are Becki and Douglas, along with her parents Beth and Jack, and Doug’s Cousin Rick and his wife Cindy (who is Becki’s Godmother and a lifelong friend of Becki’s mom Beth, and that’s how Becki and Douglas got together!), and Doug and I are going to have dinner with them. All I am preparing are chocolate truffle pies and whole cranberry sauce. The traditions evolve; however, the love and the sweet memories are ever present, and we transition with enormous gratitude for the multitude of present blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Molly Bates, Centerville TN

  3. My Thanksgiving memories growing up are nothing like yours, Pam. Our family was small, never more than five at our table — Mom, Dad, my brother, grandmother and me. Mom was Viennese, so cooking a turkey was never her “thing” but she did it. Dad HAD to have boiled onions. I remember frozen peas and canned sweet potatoes with little dots of marshmallows on top and that gelatinous cranberry from a can. The saving grace to all of this was that my mother recreated my paternal grandmother’s New England recipe for stuffing using saltine crackers. Yum, yum! The best. Her gravy was pretty darn good too. The rest of it was “meh.” I would have killed for mashed potatoes! The leftover turkey carcass always sat out on the porch covered with a camp dishtowel. Why? I have no idea. I do remember one year the dog pulled it down off the table. So much for leftovers. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a turkey. I’m always somewhere other than home. The last nine years have been the buffet at the retirement community with my mom. Thanks for tickling my memories.

    Bonnie Green, Des Moines

  4. Thanks for the memories, Pam. Mine are somewhat similar growing up and orange mandarin salad is a staple. We do not vary our menu much, however this year I had contemplated the cheesy potato casserole. Thanks for the warning — we will do mashed!

    Chris Sidwell, Des Moines

  5. Two things come to mind, Pam. First – I have recently had conversations about what it means to be a matriarch — the joy, the responsibilities, the just plain figuring it out. Tradition is such a huge part of this. While others “pitch in” and make it all happen, it is the matriarch who ultimately carries the family traditions forward, especially around the holidays. This is a BIG DEAL, not just for an individual family, but for a community. You have done a wonderful job of capturing this. I have a daughter who uses one grandmother’s beautiful old crockery bread bowl to make her other grandmother’s wonderful homemade bread. And she’s already got her 7-yar-old helping bake the anise-flavored pfeffernusse cookies we always dip in coffee around the holidays. When he asked for his own cup of coffee, she did not hesitate to pour him some. I have no doubt that when she is the matriarch, she will rule with joy and purpose. Secondly – embracing the organized chaos is so important. Yes, there is some stress getting it all together, but it’s the gathering and doing and laughing and loving that is important. Not perfection. I laughed when you paused your dinner to make the mashed. It was absolutely necessary. Great column, Pam. THANKS!

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