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A warm and welcoming Thanksgiving feast, Grandma-style

Did she know best? Without YouTube or Instant Pot, her Thanksgiving feast wasn’t trendy, but it beamed warmth and conviviality. Let’s turn back.

A Thanksgiving menu inspired by Grandma and styled by Sheryl Julian. From top right: Green Beans in Ginger-Soy Sauce, Scalloped Potatoes, Roast Turkey with Paprika Butter, Buttery Pull-Apart Blossom Bread, Chocolate Cream Pie, Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes.Sally Pasley Vargas

Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Green Beans in Ginger-Soy Sauce

Buttery Pull-Apart Blossom Bread

Chocolate Cream Pie

This year, at a tumultuous time for many people around the world, we’re all looking for a Thanksgiving holiday that feels cozy, a day when the menu takes a back seat to the main event: warmth and conviviality that emanate from a gathering of family and friends.

Take a lesson from Grandma and simplify the day. Let’s turn back.

The Grandma of our imagination isn’t the fussy type, but a practical cook who watches her budget. She didn’t have YouTube or Instant Pot, only a few well-thumbed cookbooks, and lots of good advice from the women who taught her.


Let the old gal stand in for the kind of cooking and low-key holiday we don’t do much anymore. We’re brining turkeys in some unwieldy wet bucket system that isn’t really even safe unless you have a walk-in refrigerator. (Though Grandma probably did dry brine the turkey without knowing the term — sprinkling it with salt and setting it uncovered in the fridge overnight.) Today, we’re also butterflying the poor bird to cook it flat, or roasting it halfway and cutting out the breast when the white meat is done but the legs are not up to temperature.

Just let the bird be.

Prepping Roast Turkey with Paprika Butter calls for seasoning it with soft butter mixed with one of the few spices in the pantry a generation ago. Pop it into the oven and set a timer. Roast it on a rack that fits snugly inside the roasting pan so the legs sit high enough to brown nicely and all those lovely poultry juices release into the pan for making gravy later.


Suppress the urge to wow your guests with trendy techniques and cheffy recipes. A great old-timey dish, Scalloped Potatoes, consists of nothing more than starchy baking potatoes (such as russets) baked in milk or cream with only a small amount of onion, salt, and pepper. Many European cultures have versions of this homey side.

Another old-fashioned specialty is Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes baked with brown sugar. Sorry, Grandma, we voted no on a topping of marshmallows, but add them if you like when we’re not looking.

Instead of stuffing, take the bread and the seasonings used in a traditional version and make Buttery Pull-Apart Blossom Bread that will look stunning when you present the golden cross-hatched round.

You must have something green and crisp and a little spicy on the table (begging your pardon, Granny), and for that you need fresh ginger, chile powder, cumin, and coriander. Green Beans in Ginger-Soy Sauce is an Indian Chinese dish that will add a bright element to the menu. Maybe your Nani is from Kolkata.

And then it’s time for pie, or more specifically, a dreamy, delicious Chocolate Cream Pie in a flaky crust filled with a rich chocolate pudding and topped with a voluptuous mound of whipped cream.

The menu shouldn’t wear you out; delegate to anyone who offers to help. Will the dish be exactly like you would make it? Maybe not. Does it matter?

Thanksgiving should feel toasty and welcoming, and everything on the table should be a side to a centerpiece of grand generosity.


Sheryl Julian can be reached at