Eating and then eating and then eating some more on Thanksgiving
November 17, 2012 1:40 AM   Subscribe

Thanksgiving....appetizers? Is that a thing? Related: what time do you eat on Thanksgiving?

Should I serve appetizers on Thanksgiving, and if so, what? This is the first Thanksgiving I've hosted. We have always gone to my parents or Mr. Llama's parents.

Both of us come from families that eat Thanksgiving at 5 or 6 in the evening. I was thinking maybe we would eat around 3 or 4, because I know some families eat even earlier and just continue eating all day. In my family, typically, everyone is woozy on potato chips and onion dip by the time dinner rolls around. Mr. Llama's family less so -- they eat these cheesy crackery pastry things and cocktail shrimp before dinner but then by the time you actually get to eat dinner everyone is sort of starving and twitchy. Also I do not have a recipe for cheesy crackery pastry things.

We are hosting my parents and frankly, there's not a lot to do other than eat.

So, should I serve dinner even earlier, at 2, or later, at 5 or 6? If we eat at 4, 5, 6 -- what kind of appetizers should I serve? I'd like to serve something more festive and special than opening a bag of chips. Not that there is anything wrong with chips.

For wine and beer we have everything from a dark porter to prosecco. Maybe it might be nice to drink the prosecco with some light appetizers before dinner...but what?
posted by A Terrible Llama to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing the cheesy things are cheese straws. Here's a recipe - they're easy to make. You could make those and serve them with drinks when the guests arrive. Then if I were you I'd serve dinner quite early, say 2pm, because I'd rather spend the day with drowsy, overfed people than twitchy, hungry ones. After dinner watch a movie or a game or the parade or something, and keep nibbling throughout the day. Have some really good bread and fixings in to make turkey and cranberry sandwiches when people get hungry again towards evening.
posted by hazyjane at 1:56 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just make nachos. Nobody ever complains about nachos, and it's little more work than opening a bag of chips, except you get praised.
posted by mannequito at 2:08 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

This guy says no appetizers.

(We've never made them, it's just straight to the turkey and stuffing for us.)
posted by third word on a random page at 2:17 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I much prefer eating earlier, like around 2pm. (You probably prefer whatever you grew up with, I guess.) Here's why:
- I'm a morning person, so I don't mind getting up earlier to cook (and many Thanksgiving foods can be prepped ahead)
- then we eat at a "normal" lunch time, so we're not stuffed full of potato chips (who wants to waste Thanksgiving day calories and/or stomach room on potato chips?)
- so we eat a relatively healthy Thanksgiving dinner,
- then are too full for dessert
- so we have dessert for supper. WIN! (and usually a turkey sandwich)
posted by instamatic at 2:47 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A small plate of fruit and nuts is really all you want for appetizers. You could serve the nuts still in their shell with nut crackers on hand and it will count as an activity. :) Do serve appetizers, as you might run a bit late with the turkey, since it is your first time.

Plan to eat by 2:00 and then fix a plate for your parents to take home. They will thank you for letting them go so early.

Do not serve alcohol without food.
posted by myselfasme at 2:48 AM on November 17, 2012

Response by poster: Just to be clear I actually do want to eat earlier -- I'm pretty much in it for the food and furthermore, there's nothing else to do. They are staying with us for several days, and will have been here two days prior to Thanksgiving so we'll have used up a lot of conversational topics and up for endurance eating.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:54 AM on November 17, 2012

My family always eats at like 3 o'clock. We do have "appetizers" but nothing that requires a lot of work, since that's going into the dinner. We usually have crackers, cheese, maybe some sliced pepperoni, and my mom makes Shrimp Cocktail Dip which is just a block of softened cream cheese (or neufchatel) on a plate with cocktail sauce and baby shrimp dumped over it. It's great on crackers. She puts it all on a large platter and puts it on the coffee table in the living room for people to graze on while dinner is prepping. Believe me, nobody expects you to prepare exquisite, individually made hors d'oeuvres when they're getting a turkey and fixings out of you.
posted by katyggls at 3:28 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have Thanksgiving dinner at dinner time. My mom tends to put out things like almonds, hummus and things to dip into hummus, and gherkins, for us to nosh on while we get ready for dinner. As I'm writing this, I'm noticing that our apps are not super carb heavy, which might be a good thing in terms of the impending meal.

The way we deal with family and the meal is we send people out to the store for a last minute item, we go for a walk in the neighborhood, and we stagger the cooking over the two days before so it isn't one of those last minute whirlwind kind of things.

Since this is your first Thanksgiving, you get to make the traditions. So if you want to eat early, go ahead. If you want everyone to go out and see a movie at some point in the day, make that the tradition. Find a way for it to be something enjoyable for you and for everyone. Send the guys/gals outside to rake leaves or throw a football around.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:54 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My family does "crudites" (pronounced cruhd-ights, of course): crunchy veggies with some kind of dip, a selection of whatever cheeses looked interesting with crackers, a bowl of those in-the-shell mixed nuts that we compete over for brazil nuts and filberts, and the family-specific tradition of chopped liver. Mmmmmm chopped liver. It's not Thanksgiving without it!

Basically my mom has it down to this really awesome clockwork science. Chopped liver gets made the day before, along with like two of the pies, the stuffing, all the turkey stock and maybe one of the sides. Our stuffing is simple and while we chop up the veggies for it we make carrot and celery sticks for the crudites. Day of cooking includes more pies, the turkey itself, the sides that can't be done ahead of time, and gravy gravy gravy. All the rest of the appetizery things are as simple as opening a box of crackers or putting out a bowl of something.

The guests generally show up at 4:30. We sit around and chatter and eat snacks and have a first glass of wine while we're all wrapping up the cooking process. The turkey rests and we all stare at it dolefully as it taunts us. Mom gets obsessive about gravy texture. I set the table and fold the napkins in a different way each year. We eat at about 6ish, slowly. Break for digestion. Then pie! Millions of pies. By about 9, everybody can't move. It's delightful.

Harrumph, now I want to go home for Thanksgiving. Damn.

Anyway, point being: It's your Thanksgiving, you can schedule it however you like! But be open and straightforward about the cooking - maybe people want to help? Or maybe the helpful people are horribly annoying and you want them out of your kitchen? In that case, declare certain acceptable people (your S.O.) kitchen deputies and all others must stay out on pain of not having the turkey cut of their choice! Anything goes, just own it. And appetizers can be anything, but maybe use it as a chance to fill in a food group that might be lacking during the actual meal, like green veg? (Or organ meats, if you consider that a food group, which frankly I totally do.) You can keep it super simple and still impress the heck out of people, if that's what you want to do, or you can put some forethought into it and make a beloved family favorite. Or both.
posted by Mizu at 4:27 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Almonds, dried fruit, hard cheeses to go with arrival and a first drink then some more formal seafood dish served on plates but not at the table with some form of bubbles once everyone is there. That's what my fam does.
posted by JPD at 4:27 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

We generally have a cheese or two, an assortment of (boxed) crackers, cocktail shrimp, smoked salmon (this one is just because my uncle has a smoked salmon guy), and chips&salsa.

Dinner is typically set for 4pm, but we don't usually eat until 8 or 9 because I come from the family of perpetual lateness.

We're also super classy, in that if there were any leftovers from the previous night's dinner, we bust those out as "appetizers", too.
posted by phunniemee at 4:30 AM on November 17, 2012

The huge meal begins at 1 or 2.

People start showing up at 11:30 or 12:00 (mostly to help -- we have 20 people on the SMALL side).

Things that are around to munch on while the big dinner is getting ready:

*Relish plate with pickles and olives
*Chips and dip
*Veggies and dip
*Develed eggs
*Cheese and crackers

Then there's the dinner. Then the clean up (which is really fast), and then at around 4, we break into the pies. Then around 7 the people who weren't there for the dinner start come over and bring even more dessert and everything's wrapped up about 8.

That's on my dad's side.

My mom's side is basically the same with fewer people and no evening visitors, so everything wraps up around 5 or 6 there.

I prefer having the meal in the afternoon to the evening.
posted by zizzle at 4:34 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

We eat dinner in the early afternoon, we shoot for 1 o'clock but there's no exact time, sometimes we have to wait for halftime of the Cowboys game to actually sit down. The only apps we have are a relish tray with pickles, olives and cheeses, vegetable tray and devilled eggs. Later in the afternoon people start getting into the pies and brownies. My family is very very laid back about holidays though, we're usually wearing shorts and barefoot and eat on the deck in the backyard.
posted by hollygoheavy at 4:46 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mom always makes celery stalks filled with goo. My sisters are going to demand the recipe this year, but we talked about it yesterday and they think it's cottage cheese, mayo, salt, and pepper. They love the goo, but I think it... I can't make eye contact, let's just leave it there.

We eat when everything is ready, so depending on how competent and together everyone is, that's between 1pm and 5pm, usually on the earlier side of that range.

Key point: there are NO other formal meals that day. My mom buys or makes cinnamon rolls. If I want less carbs for breakfast, I stop at McDonald's.

Last year I brought chips or something like that to munch on. This year my sister has been on a cooking experimentation kick, and will be attempting soft pretzel bites. I might also bring some kind of fruit because our official meal is NOT well-balanced at ALL.

After some challenging experiences I now make sure to have emergency snacks on hand, just in case (crackers, etc.) I highly recommend this strategy.
posted by SMPA at 5:05 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This list of 101 simple/easy-to-prepare Thanksgiving dishes by Mark Bittman has some great options for appetizer-like things. A couple of chutneys + a couple of cheeses + crackers/bread would be perfect, as would several of the breads and crackers he suggests.
posted by rebekah at 5:06 AM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

My mom has no appetizers. We eat at 1 p.m. My MIL has relish tray/crudite, and shrimp cocktail. We eat around 5 or 6.

I love this woman on YouTube. EntertainingWithBeth.

Here is a nicer appetizer she recently made. Goat Cheese Tartelettes with Onion Jam
posted by Fairchild at 5:09 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We always ate by about 3 or 4. Veggies-n-dip and cheese-n-crackers usually were the type of "appetizers" available, and maybe bowls of mixed nuts or that thing where you stuff cream cheese and chopped olive into celery sticks.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:51 AM on November 17, 2012 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Make a plan. Seriously, sit down and make a timeline of everything you're going to do and when. Write out your recipes, go down the list, and make another list so you can check off the ingredients you have, vs. the stuff you need to get. It will help you make sure the meal comes out at the right time. There are just too many things goin on at once to leave things to memory.

As for appetizers, this year I've got more people coming than I know what to do with. The goal is to sit down to dinner at five, people are coming over at two ish. I'm going to set out chopped liver, salmon rillettes, and some veggies. While I'm getting the meal together, board games! There'll be about twelve people, and I have a bunch of games they can choose from to entertain themselves.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:06 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

On Thanksgiving Day I usually have guests in the house already. They get a do-it-yourself cereal buffet for breakfast if they want.

People filter in through the late morning. I have platters of fruit (thinly sliced eating apples and persimmons, and clementines and grapes) out, as well as crackers and a cheese plate, and sometimes nuts and/or chocolate pretzels. There's wine and juice and sparkling water out too, and the wine glasses have tags on so everyone can keep track of their own.

Eat at 2. (I used to do later, but I realized that people were just getting full on snacks, and why wait really?)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:07 AM on November 17, 2012

Oh and I have done fancier appetizers in the past, and it wasn't really worth it. People just got full before dinner.

I had a very germ-phobic phase where I didn't want anyone touching communal food, so I've made endive spears with walnut/blue cheese plops... individual phyllo cups with brie and grapes... cheese puffs... they were good, but meh, not worth the work in addition to the dinner. Fruit is clean and easy and doesn't sit heavy in the stomach.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:11 AM on November 17, 2012

For the last several Thanksgivings, this pickled shrimp recipe has been my go-to appetizer, and it's always a huge hit. Can (actually, should) be made the day before, not too filling, and screamingly delicious.
posted by neroli at 6:24 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think crudites is the way to go. I always think I'm going to feel terrible (but also happy, strangely enough) after eating a ton of heavy Thanksgiving food, so having something healthy could be a good way for people to think "at least it wasn't ALL bad for me."
posted by smirkyfodder at 6:53 AM on November 17, 2012

We usually have a lot of appetizers. Vegetables with various dips (I try to stick to mostly these), cheese with bread and crackers, nuts, toffee/ candy, and more that I forget. Also wine.

People arrive around 2-3 and nibble and drink as soon as they arrive. We sit down around 4 or 5, depending on when the latecomers arrive, when the turkey is ready, etc.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:00 AM on November 17, 2012

Oh god, no matter what time you plan to eat, always have something appetizery on hand for when the turkey suddenly needs 2 more hours and no one ate lunch because turkey was coming. Last year I had to sneak away to the fucking IMAX theatre - the only place open in the neighborhood - and get curly fries while pretending to go out to get tampax. A little veg and dip and fruit would have gone a long way.
posted by elizardbits at 7:24 AM on November 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Late afternoon/early evening. Smoked seafood and cocktail shrimp with sparkling wine; sparkling grape juice for the kids. Also a different appetizer for the kids if they don't like seafood.
posted by BibiRose at 7:52 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a 2 or 3 in the afternoon Thanksgiving eating family, but then I moved to New York, where in my experience Thanksgiving is a dinnertime thing, not a "Sunday family late lunch" thing.

My favorite Thanksgiving "app", or really just a thing to tide yourself over till the real eating began, was the year that my friend made a slow-cooker full of corn chowder and left it on low in the kitchen all day while we cooked. I don't know how applicable that would be to your situation, if the arrangement is that your family is coming over close to eating time, and not to collaborate with the cooking throughout the day.

My Southern family tends to bust out the good old southern-style party apps for these situations. In my family it's usually a block of cream cheese with pepper jelly and tortilla chips and semi homemade queso dip (a can of ro-tel and a half-pound of velveeta). In addition to the cheese and cracker plate and some crudite esque platter thing.

If you live near a Trader Joe's check out their frozen appetizer section. They have all those cute little mini-quiches and goat cheese onion tartlets and the like. Sooooo good, and you just heat them up in the oven beforehand. Which, now that I think about it, may take more forethought. The other stuff doesn't involve an oven.
posted by Sara C. at 8:06 AM on November 17, 2012

We've always had what my mom called "relish trays". One cheese slices of whatever cheeses you like, arranged artfully, and one sausage slices and crackers, arranged artfully. Not terribly haute cuisine but people eat them, and they're satisfied. If we were going all out, we'd make a sweet tray with chocolates or store bought cookies as well.

In our family, we ate between 2-3 every big holiday and munched on desserts and left-overs for the rest of the day. Most of our guests would arrive between noon and one, thus the appetizers.
posted by patheral at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2012

Like much of Metafilter, it seems, we always had crudites, pickles and perhaps some crackers.

As for the conversational lulls, have you thought about board games? Apples to Apples, Ticket to Ride, Taboo?
posted by kate blank at 8:31 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

The cornmeal breaded and fried oysters with cajun spice were well received last year. They were tasty, and served one or two pieces at a time on lettuce. It was good that they were kind of "precious" so you only got a taste.

When the meal is as usual running a bit late, a little taste reassures people that food is actually on the way.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:39 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding boardgames. This came to be a huge tradition in my family. Since we ate early-ish, boardgames were for Thanksgiving evening with leftover pie and turkey sandwiches.
posted by Sara C. at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

We put out mixed nuts and cheese and crackers. We graze until dinner time.
posted by zzazazz at 8:54 AM on November 17, 2012

+1 with Elizardbits's suggestion of having appetizers in case the turkey isn't ready "on time." At my T-days dinner has always been at about 5. Apps are cheese & crackers, nuts, and if feeling extravagant, a bit of caviar over cream cheese with crackers. People are literally shoved out of the way to get at that one. Anyway, good luck!
posted by scratch at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2012

Our family has always had Thanksgiving dinner at DINNER time -- so 6 p.m. And we've always had appetizers, whether we have people over or (more often) when it's just the three of us. Good cheese, crudites, shrimp (as of the first time we stopped having it in my parents' kosher home) and olives. Then again, we often have appetizers when it's not Thanksgiving. (Forget Thanksgiving. Now I want tapas!)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:39 AM on November 17, 2012

As I grew older and got out into the world more, I found out that my family was apparently in the minority when it came to dinner time on Thanksgiving....we always had it around the same time we'd normally have dinner (6 or 7PM). Part of the reason was routine - that's when everyone was used to eating, and part of the reason was Mom didn't want to get up at 5AM to start cooking. As a result, I've always hated the occasions when I've had to eat Thanksgiving dinner at some relative's house where they serve the turkey at 1PM.

And it was a tradition in my family when we shopped for the turkey and dinner trimmings to also buy some actual snack items - stuff Mom never traditionally kept on hand. We'd buy a variety of boxed snack crackers (Sociables, Wheat Thins, etc), some different cheeses from the deli, a couple of different dips and some veggies to made a relish tray. We'd munch around lunch time but not get too stuffed, always leaving room for turkey. As far as worrying about occupying your time until dinner is served, we played board games (one of the few times during the year when we had enough people to sit down and play Trivial Pursuit or Uno or some such).
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2012

We didn't do any sort of pre-meal eating when I was a kid, but our Thanksgivings were immediate-family only, with no one to entertain. If it's a larger gathering, there's usually some sort of snacky stuff out - nuts, party mix, crackers, maybe a sweet snack, etc. Anything that can be served in a bowl and eaten without utensils works pretty well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:49 AM on November 17, 2012

Growing up, we usually ate around 5:00 or 6:00, and had appetizery things like nuts in the shell that you crack yourself, and cheese and crackers, crudites, or hummus (not all of the these at once - it varied from year to year.)

Now that I sometimes do Thanksgiving myself, I also still eat on the later side, and usually have some nuts and hummus or tzatziki. The other thing we have taken to doing is having a first course of some soup (recipe to follow). This can be served while the turkey is resting, or can be served a bit sooner if the turkey is taking longer than you expected, and people are getting hungry. It is easily made the day ahead or so and reheated. The key is to give people a cup of this soup, not a huge bowl, so as not to kill their appetites.

Sweet Potato And Leek Soup
Florence Fabricant

Time: 45 minutes, Yield: 8 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped leeks, white part only (4 to 6 leeks)
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, in 1-inch dice
1 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half
salt and pepper (use white pepper if you are feeling fancy)
1 tablespoon minced cilantro leaves for garnish (you can leave this out if you hate cilantro)

1. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Add leeks, and saute slowly over low heat until tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic.

2. Add sweet potatoes and 3 cups water. Simmer about 20 minutes, until tender. Puree. (If making ahead, you can stop at this point and do the final steps on the day of).

3. Return puree to saucepan, add milk or half-and-half, bring to a simmer, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups more water to make soup no thicker than heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a dusting of cilantro.
posted by gudrun at 9:49 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

We eat breakfast like normal.

Apps go out around noon and usually consist of chips and guacamole/salsa, mini quiche, crackers and cheese, and if my mom is around, stuffed mushrooms.

Dinner is served around 2 pm depending on food timing.

Second dinner (ie, leftovers) is served around 6pm.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:19 AM on November 17, 2012

With my side of the family, dinner was earlier and earlier every year, because my grandmother and great-aunt had an ongoing rivalry over who would get to cook the turkey, and each year set their alarms a bit further ahead to pre-empt the other one popping it into the oven. No appetizers, as we would generally still be lingering over breakfast by the time the bird hit the table. Afternoon and evening would basically be one continuous slow graze which gradually migrated from the table to in front of the TV.

With my wife's side, extended family arrives at five on the dot, appetizers (always cheese plate, vegetable plate with hummus, shrimp with pickled onions, and fois gras toast points) and wine served immediately, dinner at six thirty, coffee by eight, extended family out the door by nine, core family each swing into their assigned cleanup role (dishes, chairs and extra table stashing, tablecloth and napkin laundering) which is wrapped up well before ten, followed by cognac or scotch.

Both strategies have their merits.
posted by ook at 10:52 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

In our family, we usually have some fancy cheese and crackers and dried fruit on hand in case dinner takes longer than usual (we aim for early afternoon, but...that does not always happen so it's good to have some backup snacks!) Feels festive but it's zero work.

Also, don't feel you need to sit around all day and entertain each other or come up with conversation topics! We'll usually have a kitchen contingent working on prepping food and occasionally calling in people to help as needed, a football contingent, and some folks who sit around and read a book, chat, play board games, etc. (We've usually have big groups for Thanksgiving.) Anyway, point being, everyone doesn't need to be 'on' the whole time.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have hummus or other dip, vegetables are a less filling choice than pita bread or chips. The dip usually has a good amount of fat, which is pretty filling as it is.

I put out a limited amount of pre-dinner bites. Some people really can't stop eating yummy snacks even though they know better. Last year, I composed small plates, one per person, of olives, cheese, a couple of thin slices of french bread, and pickled vegetables. It looked pretty, and nobody had an opportunity to stuff themselves.

The treats made with cheese, flour, butter, etc., are fab. I just don't make too many of them. Guests appreciate variety and a nice presentation.

Don't worry at all about people feeling initially disappointed in what you offer before dinner. They'll get over it really fast!

Since both families are used to eating late, I suggest that you tell them beforehand that the meal will be served at the new time. If they express doubt, just tell them, "I know! I've never tried it before, either. I'm looking forward to it."
posted by wryly at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2012

My family used to do the early Thanksgiving dinner - we would eat at like 2 or 3 or so - and what inevitably happened was that by 8 or just when we had gotten the whole damn meal cleaned up and put away, whichever came first, everyone would be hungry again and come back into the kitchen and start excavating leftovers and making sandwiches. This can be extremely disheartening. So as soon as I started hosting my own Thanksgivings, I moved dinnertime to, well, dinnertime: 7ish. That way when it's done it's done and you can devote the rest of the evening to ignoring the dishes and drinking too much wine.

We have always had appetizers: crudites, cheese and crackers - usually cream cheese with pepper jelly - and maybe just cold tail on shrimp with cocktail sauce. My mom used to make this extremely elaborate looking but actually really easy first course which consists of half an avocado draped with shrimp and a dollop of remoulade. That's always good to impress people.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:40 PM on November 17, 2012

What nationality are your parents? Go that route for appetizers!

Last year we rocked the Italian-side and had hard cheeses, olives, cured meats, and stuffed peppers - all from the deli case of an old school and awesome Italian Deli I frequent - so no cooking involved.

There was lots of proseco involved, so everyone was happy, but not drunk.

This year, one of my friends is doing Oysters Rockefeller.

YES. You want snacks in case the turkey needs longer.

On the French tip - pate, gherkins, olives, and cheese also works.
posted by jbenben at 8:43 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mefi's own Cranberry Jalapeno Salsa Crack has become an official fixture for our family for years now. I spread it thinly on rosemary triscuits with a slice of provolone cheese. There's similar stuff out there too like black grape salsa. I think fruit is good because as others have mentioned upthread, often the Thanksgiving meal is not terribly balanced.

Speaking of. When I was growing up, my Italian-Alsatian family's deal on Thanksgiving (over at my aunt's) was we'd have an early first course of handrolled, handcut pasta and sauce in the early afternoon, then take a long breather away from the table, then do the proper meal mid evening. The truth is, the thing from those meals I remember and dream about most to this day was that first course. But I know how unorthodox that is now (unorthodox and amazing).
posted by ifjuly at 9:01 PM on November 17, 2012

My mother-in-law grew up WASP. She traditionally serves shrimp cocktail as an appetizer. Also tomato aspic with Miracle Whip. (She's the only one who eats it, however.) We usually eat around 6:30, followed by clean-up and pie.

If you asked my mother about appetizers, she'd just laugh at you. (She's of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction. They don't do "fancy.") In any case, when we go there we eat in the afternoon, around 3:00. Then we clean up and pick all the remaining meat off the carcass, toss it in a stock pot, and make turkey bott boi for lunch the next day. And then we have pie.

If I host Thanksgiving dinner I usually put out some of the following: cheese, summer sausage, raw vegetables and hummus, and occasionally a baked brie (spread with apricot jam, wrapped in puff pastry and put in the oven for 15-20 minutes). Sometimes, instead of cheese and sausage, I make buckwheat blini early in the day and serve it with sour cream, smoked salmon, and caviar. And of course we drink wine. Lots of wine. We usually snack on the appetizers during the late afternoon and early evening and eat around 7:30, clean up, make coffee and tea, and have our pumpkin pie.

I like having appetizer-type stuff around. It means that over the following days we can just go to the refrigerator and graze on it and the leftovers whenever, and I don't have to cook for a long, long time.
posted by tully_monster at 11:11 PM on November 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers everybody. This has been weirdly fascinating, to hear how different it is in different families. Eating early seems so strange to me, but it seems 'righter' for a holiday totally about eating, because otherwise you eat at 6 and it's over so quick and at that point you're either ready to eat someone's arm or you've been eating cheese and crackers for three hours and you don't really care about anything put in front of you.

It occurred to me that because my dad has some health problems, I think if we eat at 2 PM he'll take a nap afterwards and he'll miss hours of the holiday and time with his granddaughter, and he'll feel like he missed out. I don't think he has it for the endurance eating and drinking of starting quite that early.

I think what I'm going to do is target sundown for dinner (4:20 on Thursday here) and then we can eat mindlessly for an hour or so, meander around, have dessert, play a game, and then if Dad falls asleep at 7PM more power to him. Little llama will go to bed then too, after we let her run around until she has a meltdown.

So a light breakfast, then appetizers around noon or 1, what would be 'lunch'...and swiping from all of the great answers, have the prosecco, these cheese straws and olives, nuts in shells, sharp cheddar cheese with hot pepper jelly and crackers, and cold shrimp.


Thanks everyone.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh! Oh, just spotted the "what else can we do other than eat" angle. My family may have a thing for that too --

We ate at about 4, then delayed dessert for an hour -- we were usually in my aunt's enormous house, so we kids would go off playing on the 3rd floor while my aunt insisted on starting the cleanup and my father and a couple other women would insist on helping her, as my grandparents and the other adults would chill in the dining room. As we kids got older, a couple of us would either be subtly guilted into also offering to help my aunt or would go hang out ourselves in another room. Then dessert.

Then - POKER. I have no idea who thought to start doing this, but round about when I was 10 the post-prandial penny-poker games started at about 7 pm, and that is what my cousins and I miss most, and that is where some of my favorite family stories came from (my absolute favorite story about my grandmother is about her having a fractured wrist one Thanksgiving, and my father catching her trying to hide some aces in her sling before we started the game).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:17 PM on November 19, 2012

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