Thanksgiving dinner at the Aubrey estate has always been a glittering affair, a marvelous journey that leads to the sublime merging of the splendid and the sated. Invitations have always been jealously guarded, leading to bloodletting and tear shedding. Popularity can be a curse.
Menus, however, have changed. I am still looking for a vegetable dish that people will eat. Some guests will NEVER eat their greens. I will never cook a pie until I’ve fully recovered from the pecan debacle of the mid-nineties. Bread…cookies…I’m always looking for a new look.
The turkey, of course, remains the same. Cooking time is estimated so that the bird cooks all day, so that the Scent of Holiday will entertain both hostess/cook and guests all day.
The chicken also remains the same.
Prior to one of my first Thanksgivings, Mother and I were shopping for a centerpiece. Every grand table – like a grand dame – needed a suitable crown. I thought this was common knowledge, but we found nothing. I wasn’t interested in sprays of autumn flowers, or gourds or candles. I wanted something magnificent and feathered; a turkey built on Steiff-like proportions – a bird to fix upon the other lowly dishes on the table with its glassy eye.
No such bird presented itself.
But a chicken – sensing its chance, perhaps – did. It was harvest colored and bold. It held itself proudly. Mother and I agreed that it was fine and brave enough to hold its own against the bird that would be roasting its way to fame in the kitchen, a few yards away.
And ever since that distant, wandering year, a Thanksgiving chicken has held court over the rich and annual meal. Sometimes cheddar biscuits will be at its feet, sometimes pumpkin bread. One year cheddar-potato gratin, another year the gratin will have goat cheese and caramelized onions. Sometimes a vat of lasagna will find its way to the table. Once or twice I’ve been forced – angrily – to add dried cranberries to the stuffing instead of cherries. Every year will feature subtle differences.
But my guests can always depend on a turkey. As well as a chicken. And in a few hours it will stand at its rightful post, a feathered statuette commandeering one of the most wonderful meals of the year.
I can only hope that my twinkling blog-friends – I can hear you even now, hushed and charming – will emerge from this holiday with memories of vast and foolish caloric intakes, of turkeys past and present, and with your own version of the eternal Thanksgiving Chicken. May he – and you – crow forever.