Joni Woolf: A checklist for Thanksgiving dinner

Published 4:06 pm Monday, November 16, 2015

When I was younger, and prepared a Thanksgiving meal for only family members and an extra relative or two, I did not make lists. (And, being younger, I had decent memory skills.) I muddled through, and usually came up with quite enough food, flowers on the table, and pleasant conversation. These days I live a very different life: Those older relatives are long gone, as are the husbands, and with a daughter living up the hill from me, I have found new meaning in Thanksgiving. As an old hymn says, “New occasions teach new duties … ”  Here is how we get ready in 2015. (Note: Much of this list appeared in slightly different form in the Macon Telegraph many years ago.)

Preparing for the great Thanksgiving feast — a checklist to make it easier
WEDNESDAY (A week before Thanksgiving)
• Check your guest list again: Are you sure you’ve included everyone?
• Write down the menu, including appetizers and beverages.
• Copy this checklist and hang it somewhere handy.
• Do any heavy housecleaning, like windows — or ask some family member to help. Also  clean the yard or deck and buy a few fresh pots of seasonal flowers.
• Clean out the refrigerator, freezer and cupboard.
• Clear off the kitchen counters.
• Put away appliances you won’t need this week.
• Make a shopping list in two parts: Things you need right away, and perishables. Include paper goods such as cups, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and bags and wraps for left-overs.
• Get out the serving pieces.
• Make sure you have a container and serving spoon for every dish.
• Count glasses, plates and chairs and make a list of anything you need to rent or borrow.
• Get out your pots and pans and do a run-through of the menu. Do you have a roaster that will hold a 20-pound turkey?
• Polish silver if needed.
• Get out table linens; iron if needed.
• Go shopping for nonperishable items. If you are buying a frozen turkey, get it now so it will have time to thaw. If you are ordering a fresh turkey or a floral arrangement, do it today.
• Start the housecleaning, or ask a family member to vacuum, dust.
• If you are using a frozen turkey that is larger than 16 pounds, put it in a pan to catch drips and move it into the refrigerator. If you are using a fresh turkey, you can get it today.
• Finish any housecleaning and rearrange any furniture if needed.
• If you are using a turkey that is less than 16 pounds, place it in a pan to catch drips and move to the refrigerator.
• Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate it. If you’re making an appetizer such as a cheese ball or toasted nuts, do it today. (And always have some jellied cranberry sauce for those to haven’t learned to appreciate the real thing.)
• Unless you made ahead, and froze, make cornbread for dressing. Check to be sure you have a few pieces of white or wheat bread to toast to add to dressing. Make a non-perishable cake.
• Sweep the front walk and porch.
• Make up drinks, such as iced tea, mulled cider or Bloody Mary Mix, and refrigerate them.
• Make a final trip to the grocery story for perishables if needed. Pick up a couple of bags of ice, if you have space to store them. (If space is lacking, ask a friend who’s coming to pick up a bag and bring with them.)
• Make more cakes and pies and refrigerate if necessary.
• Set the table and arrange a centerpiece. Pick berries and leaves for the mantels, etc.
• Toast the bread for the dressing.
• Peel and slice potatoes for scalloped potatoes; store in cold water in refrigerator until next morning when cheese, butter, milk and any other ingredients are added.
• Bake or boil the sweet potatoes for the soufflé (unless you plan to use the canned ones).
(Note: This time-table is designed for a 3:30 p.m. dinner. Adjust as necessary.)
• 10:30 a.m. Preheat the oven and start the turkey now.
• Noon. Finish setting table. Put out serving spoons and get the butter dish ready. Remove potatoes from refrigerator, and prepare both kinds according to recipes.
• Wrap fresh bread or rolls with foil and set aside.
• 1:30 p.m. Make room in oven for pans of scalloped potatoes and sweet potato soufflé. They cook at same temperature.
• 2 p.m. Get the cranberry sauce out of the refrigerator and put in a serving dish. (Or open the can and slice.)
• 2 p.m. Fresh green salads should be prepared now. (Greens should have been washed earlier and wrapped in paper towels to keep dry.)
• 2:30 p.m. Remove turkey from oven. Use some of the drippings to complete dressing; put dressing in oven to bake.  Also make giblet gravy, if desired. (I put gravy in a crock pot, after cooking. It keeps it warm and I don’t have to worry that it will stick.) Also remove sweet potato casserole from oven. Bake dressing until 3:15; remove dressing and potatoes and cover lightly with foil and keep in warm place. Put in rolls or biscuits and everything will be ready for the 3:30 deadline.
At this point, serving will depend on whether you are having a small sit-down dinner, or are feeding 30 to 40 who will be in a variety of seating arrangements all over the house, porch, deck and yard. Limit the number to help in the kitchen and save your sanity. Ask two or three who work well under pressure and give them orders: Tell them exactly what you want them to do. Place all the food (if you’re having a crowd) in an easily accessible area, call everyone together, give thanks for all your blessings, and enjoy your feast.
Desserts can be “self-serve” when placed on a sideboard or table with serving knives, dessert plates and forks, and extra napkins. The same goes for coffee or drinks. Make it easy on yourself and you’ll want to do it again next year.

NOTE: The recipe for freeze-ahead dressing in last week’s food should have included 4 eggs (this is in addition to the eggs that are used to make the cornbread.) If you have already made and frozen your dressing, no harm is done. The eggs can be added to the dressing mixture after thawing and then baked as usual.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at