By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
Next week brings us Thanksgiving Day, perhaps my favorite holiday of all, a time to enjoy the festivities while giving thanks for so many blessings.
Because I grew up in the land of the Pilgrims, I am fully indoctrinated in all the traditions related to Plymouth Rock — the dresses, the hats and those wonderful buckled shoes. In fact, I played the part of a Pilgrim man in many school plays. Not only that, but the militia leader of the Pilgrims, Myles Standish, is said to be part of the family tree.
My grandmother, who came from Maine, would tell Pilgrim stories at holiday time as she prepared the turkey. Grandmother Varney would first boil her bird and then roast it. She said boiling the turkey ensured the meat would be tender and moist. Today, with all the catalogs tempting Thanksgiving cooks with assorted kitchen gadgets and herbed bird brines and special roasting pans, I still remember how my grandmother cooked her delicious turkey in such a simple but distinctive way.
Now, I believe every Thanksgiving turkey, no matter how it is cooked, needs a special platter to be displayed on the holiday dining table or buffet. I prefer platters to be at least 15 inches long — whether oval or rectangular — and handsomely decorated.
These platters can be used as wall hangings all year long, ready to be put into service holiday time. My grandmother was a collector of turkey platters, and the wall just off her dining room going toward the kitchen showcased them. There were turkey platters designed by the Johnson Brothers — one called “Autumn Grove” — and a handsome Spode platter with a pattern named “Gainsborough,” which featured a floral motif. Not all of grandmother’s platters depicted a turkey but most did.
According to Nancy Roberts, a great collector of English transferware, turkey-size platters rose in popularity after the Revolutionary War. British companies sought to serve the new American market by offering dinnerware depicting historical American landmarks, scenes of westward expansion and patriotic tableaux.
After President Lincoln declared in 1863 the fourth Thursday in November to be our official Thanksgiving Day, English potters began producing turkey platters with Thanksgiving scenes. I somehow find it fitting that we can thank Abraham Lincoln for giving us our official Thanksgiving Day.
The Pilgrims may not have celebrated on what’s now the official day, but they did so after harvest time. Whatever their fare, today we enjoy a Thanksgiving table filled with autumn favorites — sweet corn, pumpkin and cranberries. I love them all.
Decorating at holiday time can be so fun and creative. At each place setting, I love the idea of putting a chocolate turkey fashioned from a decorative mold, a sweet treat to enjoy after the meal or to take home for later. And there are so many handsome ceramic pieces available — new or vintage — that can make your table so joyfully festive. Don’t forget colorful table linens — and remember, the napkins need not match the tablecloth.
For those of you who do not own a turkey platter, this is the time to buy one. This week, I conducted an internet search for turkey platters and found several at very reasonable prices. One was vintage crested gold-banded platter for $15. And a large Plymouth turkey platter was advertised on William Sonoma’s website for under $60.
And if you can’t get one delivered by Thanksgiving, don’t fret. Buy it afterward and save it for next year. I bet your home has a wall somewhere that will thank you for it.