Dinner for Eight — Our Thanksgiving with the Professor

Many Thanksgivings ago, back when we lived in an old green house in central Nebraska, we were invited to an elderly professor’s home for dinner.

thanksgiving table

He was a widower, tall and lean, with thick, white hair and a gentle, noble demeanor that all elderly professors should have, if they can possibly do so.

We were joined by five others: a truck driver, a convenience store clerk, a school secretary, a dental hygienist, and one of the professor’s former students who was currently “between jobs.”

You might say we were a rag-tag bunch, but I won’t because I was part of it. Rather, I choose to believe we were an eclectic group of wise and witty conversationalists. A regular Algonquin Round Table, Nebraska-style.

The school secretary and unemployed student loved movies. They recommended Double Impact highly, but Child’s Play 3 was a disappointment. The truck driver admired the layout of our host’s home. The dental hygienist commented on the color of the drapes (mauve). The convenience store clerk had many opinions that he was only too happy to share, mostly with regards to Thanksgiving being a complete sham. (There’s always one in the crowd.) Husband played the role of devil’s advocate with aplomb, pointing out that whatever the original Thanksgiving was, at least now there’s gravy.

I delighted in the homemade cranberry sauce.

“It’s made with brandy,” the elderly professor said.

“That’s brilliant,” I declared. And it was.

I’ve been thinking about that Thanksgiving so many years ago. Imagining this kind man striking up conversations with people and upon hearing they had no plans for Thanksgiving, saying, “Well now, that won’t do! Stop by my place at four for cocktails, dinner’s at five. Here’s my card. Cheerio!”

Okay, maybe he didn’t say Cheerio.

Anyway, the idea is a lovely one and beings how Husband and I had no plans this year, I threw out the idea of following in the path of our kind, elderly professor. And we probably would have, but we found out the town in which we live has its own version. A community-wide Thanksgiving dinner that apparently is quite the to-do.

little fa

It started several years ago with the idea of it being for low-income and elderly people, but over the years it grew to include just about everyone, from all walks of life, all getting together to celebrate the day. And so many people want to help out, they actually have to turn volunteers away.

Fortunately we got our names in early; I think we have dish duty. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Back to our elderly professor: being the kind man he was, he shared his recipe with me.

You only use three ingredients: cranberries, sugar, and a small amount of liquid which can be water, juice, or in our kindly professor’s case, brandy.

The amounts are as follows,

  • 4 cups cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup liquid

Kindly Professor made his on the stovetop (cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens), but I’ve seen recipes that bake it (one hour at 325 degrees, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so).

I’ve played around with the recipe because that’s what I do, and I like to add about 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and an apple. You could add raisins if you feel so moved, but if your family is anything like mine, it’s best you don’t.

Another note: in place of the brandy, I’ve used red wine and once did Bailey’s Irish Cream. I like the brandy version best, but if you’d rather not use alcohol, orange juice is an excellent option.

Final note: the fresh cranberries I used were Minnesota grown. Meaning I now live in an area with bogs, as that is where cranberries grow.

Mind. Blown.

fresh cranberries
Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 🦃

P.S. Per Susie’s request, here’s a picture of a cranberry bog in Walker, Minnesota:

Cranberry bog Walker Mn

Right before harvest, the area is flooded and the cranberries float, then the harvesters wade in and collect the berries. According to what I read, cranberries are native to Minnesota, but most of the cranberries grown commercially are from Wisconsin.


33 thoughts on “Dinner for Eight — Our Thanksgiving with the Professor

  1. I’ve been to that professor’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, only then he was a British chemistry professor in California. His wife won’t let him in the kitchen – he got banded after the time he used his bandsaw to cut the frozen pizza. One mistake and banded for life.

  2. I’ve already made two pans of stuffing, jello mold and have a turkey breast and corn casserole set to finish in the am and take to oldest son’s for Thanksgiving. It’s a true family affair —20 of us — and each group brings something to share. It’s the only time of the year I really like cooking! Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

  3. We are also Thanksgiving “orphans” this year. We had an email sent out to invite up to 4 people at our church, but got no responses. So because of that email, we ended up being invited to the home of a lovely older couple from our church who is hosting 6 other “orphans”. I’m excited! In past years, we would volunteer for the community Thanksgiving in La Crosse, just as you two are doing there in Little Falls. Enjoy!

    1. Orphan Thanksgiving days are the best, in my opinion. You never know what sort of crazy conversation you might get. Should be worth a blog post or two! 😉
      Hope you have a great time!

  4. Loved your Thanksgiving tale, it seemed to reflect the Christmas spirit. And there is always a skeptic, isn’t there? I thought the skeptics would be more for Christmas though.
    Cranberry sauce recipe sounds great. If you could post a picture of a bog so we could see where the cranberries are grown??
    Happy Thanksgiving.

  5. Enjoyed this story and recipe. We have a similar community dinner here in Durango. It also gets more volunteers than they can use – I did it once. Now we go to a friend’s each year – she makes a wonderful cranberry sauce, which includes orange peel.

    1. Oh, I forgot I sometimes add orange peel too! It adds a nice flavor.
      Someone told us they had to turn away 30 volunteers, but just between you and me, they could have used extra help in the dishroom. 😀

  6. Saving your Thanksgiving story till today was a great call. I’m delighted to hear your new community is perfect. Prayers answered. We made some of my fondest Thanksgiving memories preparing, serving and cleaning up after Community dinners. And thank you for the must do recipe, Christi. God bless us every one. Too soon?

    1. No, I don’t think it’s ever too soon for a God bless us everyone.
      The community dinner was fun, couldn’t believe how many people came. Must have been the entire town!
      Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  7. I can relate to the Holiday Orphan syndrome, to the point that I wrote a post about it a few years back. You might enjoy it.

    We ended up hosting Thanksgiving this year, much to our surprise. Normally, we join family up in Seattle, but at the last minute that fell through; they came down here instead. And of course, we also invited a few friends who don’t have family in the area. I cooked my first turkey; I suspect it will not be my last.

  8. Lovely post, reminding me of my Granny who had a similar invite-the-orphans aspect about things. We never knew WHO might show up at her house for holiday festivities, so it was a bit of a roulette wheel at times. Granny had her issues, but holding out a helping hand was not one of them. Sound familiar?

    1. Your family’s holiday festivities sound like a blogger’s dream. I’d say I envied you, but I know there’s angst involved so I’ll leave that baby where I found it and let you milk it for all it’s worth. You earned it! 😉

  9. I hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving, Christi. I made the cranberry sauce according to the directions on the bag. It was good, but next year I will up my game with brandy. I knew I could depend on you for a useful recipe this time of year.

  10. It’s Burns Night tomorrow – celebrating the poet, his work, and similar things. Haggis, neeps and tatties… and I think I’ll try something with the cranberries in the freezer and some whisky in place of brandy. If I don’t comment again, you’ll know I was taken to A&E, either for a stomach pump or because some outraged family beat me up, or I’m just too ashamed to reveal how it went.
    Also… very interesting about cranberry farming. I had no idea.

      1. Oh dear I never replied… chutney and cranberry in a sort of gravy was nice. After all, ketchup is a usual accompaniment to grilled haggis slice in a roll. Yum.

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