I have always loved Thanksgiving. Every year as the air turns crisp and the leaves drift lazily from the trees, I begin anticipating the warmth and spirit of the grateful gathering that lies ahead . . . the heartwarming, happy hours at home shared with family and loved ones.
But the year I moved to Baltimore, my traditional Thanksgiving changed. I remember how excited I was to learn that my four children and their spouses would be coming from various parts of the country to spend the holiday with me. With the first nip in the air I began planning their vacation, daydreaming about the holiday table, everyone chattering cheerfully around it and digging into the gorgeous amber-glazed bird. I planned to make an overabundance of food, assuring us leftovers for the remainder of the holiday.
That year the day before Thanksgiving was a frenetic one, spent going to, coming from and sitting in the airport. At midnight, after the last travelers were settled, I tumbled into bed. On the big day I arose early, eager to stuff, truss and properly anoint the plump holiday fowl before everyone awoke.
The meal was splendid, embracing all the beautiful blessings of Thanksgiving, and I overflowed with gratitude for love, togetherness, abundance and tradition. For me, the evening passed far too quickly.
But then, so did the long weekend, which was far too short for everyone to visit with me and with their friends. Watching the family disperse in every direction, I found myself alone with tons of turkey, piles of potatoes and stacks of stuffing.
So the next year I devised a plan -- a means of keeping my family home while seeing their friends. I organized a day-after-Thanksgiving cooperative feast, an enormous communal potluck party. Each family invited was asked to pool a culinary concoction created from its evening's leftovers. I made only two requests: (1) that the cooks bring and label everything needed to serve their edibles -- platter, utensils, garnishes, etc.; and (2) that they bring hot foods already heated rather than count on my ovens being free. (Wrapping the dishes in large beach towels is a good way to insulate them for transporting).
It took little extra effort to prepare for this gathering, since my house was sparkling clean for the holiday and my table was already graced with the traditional cornucopia of fall flowers. Paper plates, cups, silverware and beverages were my contribution to the affair.
The variety of dishes brought that evening was truly astonishing. Turkey took on more guises than I ever thought possible. It was buried under pastry, swimming in chowder, scattered with vegetables, slivered in salad and slathered with gravy. Bread and rice dressings found new identities as coverings for casseroles and thickener for soups. Sweet potatoes were cleverly hidden between layers of leftover vegetables.
The evening was such a smashing success that a cooperative extravaganza has become part of our annual holiday tradition. To help you launch a similar event, here is a collection of the most popular recipes from the communal contributions. I know you'll find, as I have, that hosting a post-Thanksgiving potluck is more than just doing leftovers right, it's a beautiful way of extending the joyful spirit, love and companionship of Thanksgiving.
Jimi McCormick's turkey vegetable chowder
Makes 6 to 10 main-dish servings.
1 turkey carcass
10 cups cold water or enough to barely cover turkey bones
1 tablespoon salt
1 whole onion, peeled and stuck with 5 cloves
1/2 cup celery leaves
1 bay leaf
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium-size potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 can (16 ounces) whole tomatoes
1 package (10 ounces) frozen baby lima beans
1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
2 cups cooked turkey, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup ( 1/2 pint) whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
freshly ground pepper to taste
few fresh sprigs parsley for garnish
To make turkey stock, place carcass on cutting board and cut into 8 to 10 pieces. Place pieces in soup pot with salt, onion, celery leaves and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered for 2 hours. Strain and set aside. Meanwhile, cook bacon in medium skillet until crisp. Remove and drain.
Bring stock to a boil, add carrots, onions, celery and potatoes. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Chop tomatoes, add them with their juices, lima beans, corn, and turkey to soup. Cook until heated through. Stir in cream, cayenne and black pepper to taste. Serve in soup bowls garnished with chopped parsley.
Note: The soup may be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen.
Mary Love Harris' turkey sausage casserole
Makes 6 to 8 main-dish servings.
1 pound sausage links
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken broth
1/2 cup light cream or milk
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 teaspoon prepared mustard