I love Thanksgiving. It is absolutely my favorite holiday. It’s all about my favorite things – cooking, eating, drinking and spending time with good people, whether family or family-by-choice. For us it’s mostly the latter, family-by-choice, since we long ago gave up traveling on this weekend. I would love to be with my family back in the midwest on this beloved holiday, but less pressure and lots of fun with good people right here is a pretty good trade-off.
Occasionally, over the last 20+ years, we’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house – though that’s never my favorite way to do it. (We can talk about my control issues another time). I have one dear friend who used to host a large Thanksgiving dinner party for her family and friends. We were always invited and once took them up on the invitation. When I asked what I could bring, she answered simply “whatever it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without”. An excellent answer. That year I had to really think about the dish(es) that absolutely made Thanksgiving for me and my little family. After some soul-searching and family discussions – though the kids were quite little then, they still had an opinion – we settled on Pear & Apple Compote and Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.
My mother never liked regular Pumpkin Pie, so for time immemorial she has made Pumpkin Chiffon Pie from the Joy of Cooking. It is the Thanksgiving standard for my extended family, and from it we never waver. (Found on page 659 in my edition, circa 1975)
I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner in 1990. I was living in an apartment in Chicago, just recently having started in the wine business. Good food had always charmed me, but I was just beginning to learn how to cook it and to entertain. I was often trying to convince my group of friends to forgo bar hopping and instead come for a dinner party. That effort met with some success – though the dinner parties usually ended up just a prelude to the bar hopping.
Somehow I convinced my family that I should host Thanksgiving at my apartment that year. I’m not sure how or why it happened, as my older sister had a lovely house in the suburbs and was probably better equipped for this kind of undertaking. Nonetheless, that was the plan. There must have been just 8 of us (including my darling toddler niece) but I remember preparing for days.
First planning the menu, asking for advice from the good cooks I knew, poring over my petite collection of cookbooks. Then shopping, then prepping every evening that week after work. My stove and oven were tiny, I’m not sure how we got a turkey in there, but eventually we must have. It wouldn’t have been a very big bird after all.
In the middle of November I received in the mail my December issue of the then still fairly new Food & Wine magazine. The holiday menu within became the core of that year’s menu, and has remained an integral part ever since. I still use the original, well-loved issue for my Cranberry Sauce and my beloved Pear & Apple Compote.
The Pear & Apple compote is so loved by my children that even now, as sometimes surly teenagers, they let out a cheer when I say I’m about to make it. And like many of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes it could be made for other fall and winter meals. But then would it be as special? Since this compote isn’t yet a tradition for you, you’d probably be safe to serve it anytime you like!
The good news is that it can be made ahead (up to three days) and wants to be served at room temperature. Children and adults will welcome it’s comforting old fashioned-ness, but it’s still lively enough to offer a bit of tart relief to the richness of the meal.
Since I know you’re busy today, as am I, I’ll stop here and just insert the recipe. Though if you have a minute drop me a line and tell me what your “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without __________” food is. I’d love to hear.
Happy Thanksgiving one and all. Enjoy the season and let’s all remember to count our blessings.