Thanks, yanks

Siobhan Hewison goes full Monica Geller, with her tips for a knockout Thanksgiving dinner


Thanksgiving is one of the US’s most celebrated traditions, supposedly dating back to a colonial pilgrims’ celebratory harvest meal in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, shared with the native Wampanoag Indians. Previously celebrated individually by each state, it is now celebrated each year on the fourth Thursday of November, thanks to President Lincoln declaring it an official holiday in November 1863, and is almost - if not more - important than Christmas.

Since American customs are starting to sneak into British culture more each year, and this one is a whole load of boozy fun, here are some top tips for hosting a Thanksgiving feast (or Friendsgiving, as it’s affectionately termed when it doesn’t involve trekking home to celebrate with family).

Get all up on the ‘fall’ theme

No, I’m not suggesting everyone dresses up as Mark E Smith. Embrace the decadence of American holiday celebrations, and go all-out with the autumnal vibes. Buy yourself a wicker cornucopia online and decorate it with seasonal decorations like apples, pears, grapes, wheat, flowers, and other kinds of foliage. It’s rare to see an American home without some kind of cornucopia decoration around the holiday.

Get a tablecloth in leaf-brown, gold, red or orange, and get similarly-coloured napkins. Make sure you have plenty of candles, to complete that cozy atmosphere. If you’re looking for budget-friendly decorations, I’ve got you. Pick up some pinecones in the park. Buy some little ‘munchkin pumpkins’ from the supermarket. Pick some of the big golden leaves that are just about to fall off the sycamore/maple trees, and maybe a few twigs. Throw all those into a big fruit bowl, and there’s your centrepiece.

Plan non-turkey options

Make sure there’s enough turkey, but also remember that unfortunately not everyone likes/can eat/wants turkey (heathens), so have at least one or two other main dishes available. Glazed ham, veggie stuffed pumpkin or butternut squash, pork loin, and even some kind of baked fish are all good options.

Sides are very important too, and differ from the UK’s standard roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Think Brussels sprouts with bacon, stuffing, mashed potato, cornbread, green bean casserole (typically made with green beans and cream of mushroom soup, topped with fried onions and cheddar), cranberry sauce, mac ’n’ cheese, spiced baked carrots, and even biscuits and gravy. Of course, there’s the infamous sickly-sweet yams or sweet potatoes, too - either mashed to death with brown sugar and butter then topped with marshmallows - bake until browned - or mashed to death with cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and butter, and sprinkled with brown sugar - then baked until golden.

Dessert-wise, pumpkin pie is a must, and personally I love maple-bourbon-pecan pie. Other common pie fillings are cherry, apple, or key-lime, or you could go for something not-pie like peach cobbler, cinnamon roll traybake, an epic red velvet cake, or pumpkin bread pudding. The internet is full of great recipes, so go wild.

Stock up on booze!

Get your hands on some proper American Fall beer to sup on throughout the day. Samuel Adams’ Winter Lager is always a good shout, as is Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale. Plus, the likes of Brooklyn, Shipyard, Ballast Point, Rogue, Elysian, Founders, and Southern Tier always do something special for the Fall - it’s worth checking your nearest specialist beer shop closer to the time.

At dinner time, pretty much any brewery’s Oktoberfest lager/golden ale/amber-coloured festbier will work well with turkey and all the trimmings, and Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest is always a hit in the states - this year it was brewed alongside Germany’s Bitburger Brewery, so expect a smooth malty brew. For dessert, some kind of pumpkin ale is an obvious one, or a bourbon-barrel-aged stout. Alternatively, you could go with something less overtly sweet like a Belgian tripel, a German doppelbock, a decadent caramelly brown ale, or a spicy saison.

Make sure you are prepared

Channel your inner Martha Stewart (the classic domestic goddess version, not the convicted felon version) and plan ahead. Batch-cook, and incorporate make-ahead recipes into your feast, if only to save on oven space and avoid multitasking stress on the day. You could even make the occasion into a pot-luck dinner (very American) and ask everyone to bring a side.

Watch all the traditional Thanksgiving TV, as well. Find a channel to watch the NFL on, look for a livestream of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or make like Captain Holt from Brooklyn 99 and tune into the National Dog Show. American TV is crazy, so it would be remiss to not binge all the crazy entertainment from across the pond when there’s a legitimate opportunity. 

Finally, remember to say thanks at some point, either before you start eating, or while everyone is finishing up dessert. Happy Turkey Day, folks!

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