By PAM KENYON
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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 email@example.com.
Daughter Samantha Kenyon Holman, happy with this casserole.
What a meal!
Greg and son Nick Kenyon.
The whole Kenyon Thanksgiving crowd in a recent year.