As I’m writing this, the election is only two days past, and I think a lot of us will be debating the pros and cons of the electoral college over turkey this Thanksgiving. I personally am going to do my best to keep the table talk focused on actually giving thanks, and if that fails, I’ve studied up on which teams still have a viable path to the BCS College Football Championship.
No matter the topic of conversation, a pleasant setting can help keep the debate civil if not polite. Usually, for Thanksgiving, I tend toward formal: the old Haviland china, the Hepplewhite sterling with a coin silver spoon for coffee, a white damask napkin in a sterling napkin ring and — my favorite touch — a nut dish with some sort of treat like chocolate-covered almonds or even a few Hershey’s Kisses. Most likely I would set the table on a white damask cloth and use the crystal, of course.
A casual place setting has its appeal, too. I’d still use the sterling, but I’d switch to a heavy pottery plate and a print placemat. Large linen napkins are fun and practical. For a centerpiece, I would arrange my small collection of wooden candlesticks around a low wooden bowl filled with mixed autumn flowers or fill a rustic container with small pumpkins.
My favorite table setting in recent memory is a combination of the formal and the casual with a white damask tablecloth, barley twist candlesticks and the good china and silver. What makes it feel fresh are the flowers – or, more accurately, the lack of flowers. To create a centerpiece I raided our produce basket in the kitchen for clementines and pomegranates, cut some magnolia leaves and picked up a few pine cones from the yard. I added a pumpkin brought in from the front porch. Easy peasy.
Other than turkey, we have three traditional dishes that must be served: cornbread dressing with sausage and pecans, sweet potato soufflé and Nannie’s corn pudding. This year I’m adding a mixed green salad topped with coarsely chopped roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. Although I love making cranberry sauce from real cranberries, the Mister and the kids insist on sauce from a can. I used to make both, but, honestly, I have given up trying to convert them. There are worse things than canned cranberry sauce. I do refuse to serve it as a cylinder to be sliced. Nevertheless, my little darlings – encouraged by the Mister – usually buy their own can and open it on the sly and then pass the condiment in its quivering, shimmering glory. And now I have to admit, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
Whether you’re headed over the river and through the woods or just into the next room, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with people you love.
By day, Paula Angermeier is the head of communications for the Greenville County Museum of Art. By night, she writes about the art of living at TownandCountryHouse.com.