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.