Hasn’t it been an incredibly beautiful autumn? Watching the leaves turn their magnificent shades of russet and gold puts me in the mood for fires, feasts and long evenings spent with my family, eating comforting foods and quietly enjoying each others companionship. Because it’s soon to be Thanksgiving, I’m already planning my menu and of course trying to decide how to set my table, which is for me always the most fun of all!
I’ve been thinking for quite sometime now about family gatherings, and what they mean to us. As I was growing up, there were beautiful things that my mother always used on her table, seasonal items that made each celebration unique. When I was very young, she taught me to fill her traditional wicker cornucopia at Thanksgiving with an overflowing abundance of fruits, nuts and flowers, a centerpiece that I still create today. This beautiful symbol of harvest abundance has long been associated with the turning of the wheel of the year towards autumn. For many years, traditional woven cornucopias were difficult to find, but thankfully almost any craft store sells them year round. It is also possible to create the same effect with a lovely basket, made from wicker or any other material.
Many of us have beautiful pieces of antique silver, gorgeous family pieces, stashed away and rarely used. I encourage you to examine those long forgotten treasures for a suitable vessel to create your holiday centerpiece.
Many pieces of silver can be used as centerpieces, even if this was not their original purpose. I’ve even used a tea service as a beautiful seasonal arrangement by filling each piece with flowers and surrounding them with gourds, fruit and nuts. Single salt cellars or antique cordial glasses each filled with a small bouquet can be used as individual centerpieces on your table, making each guest feel very special. Initially clean them with some Hagerty’s silver foam, and every now and then after the first polishing wipe them down with some low abrasion organic peppermint toothpaste. This is all that’s needed to keep your family silver lovely, and shining for many generations to come. Using the toothpaste is also better for the environment and safer for you! Once you’ve chosen the piece to work with, the fun begins! There is nothing subtle about a horn of plenty, so have fun arranging it so that all of the lusciousness and sensuality of the season spills out everywhere!
A simple trip to the grocery store will provide you with lots of inspiration! Mini pumpkins, bunches of grapes, French chestnuts, pears and apples, squashes and gourds, the choices are endless! Don’t forget some lovely mums, sunflowers or even roses to poke in and out of the abundance of fruit. If you use roses, don’t forget the florist’s tubes so that they stay fresh. If you have children, don’t forget to add some lovely foil wrapped chocolate turkeys and pilgrims! My son Alex, who is now 17, still looks for them as soon as we walk into his grandmother’s house Thanksgiving eve! If you have young children, send them outside for acorns, rosehips, seed pods and beautiful leaves to bring a bit of wildness into your holiday arrangements.
For many years while I was setting tables at Schreibman’s, the most commonly asked question was “ My dishes always look the same, no matter what I do , so how can I make my table look festive and seasonal?” Color and texture will make the difference between the same old standard and a look for your table that’s fresh and new! Accents of strong color that you personally love will always do great things for your holiday spirits. For example, even a plain gold and white dinnerware pattern can be turned into an elegant autumnal expression with the addition of a different salad or soup plate. For a smaller investment than an entirely new set of dishes, you can create a table that is uniquely yours. If your dinnerware is heavily patterned, why not use a lovely colored wine or water glass that matches your plate! I love to play with fabrics this time of year, in colors of chocolate, plum and gold...anything that evokes the peace of the season. A floral or toile tablecloth will completely change the look of any dinnerware that you own, dressing up a casual dish, or warming up a very formal setting. One of my favorite tables mixes velvet and tapestry, to create a look that is very rich and warm. A velvety tablecloth cloth in a deep shade of burgundy, with the top draped in tapestry changes the look of the simplest dish. Add an oversized napkin in a colorful crepe and stuff it into the water glass, or tie it with a beautiful fabric ribbon and you have a table that everyone wants to linger at. Lots of candlesticks, always in odd numbers finish the setting. Don’t be afraid to mix pewter, silver, brass and copper. Anything goes as long as you love the way that it looks. Choose one color for the candles and enjoy the glow!
Every Thanksgiving I make a pumpkin soup, spiced with curry, onion and peanut butter to begin our meal. I love serving soup in many different ways, but a beautiful soup tureen is always closest to my heart. I’ve often said that if I had a serving piece that I would refuse to part with; it would be my Spode soup tureen in the Woodland pattern. Covered with beautiful transfer ware prints of game birds, and bordered in chocolate brown, it moves through the seasons effortlessly. If I’m not using it for soup, it turns into a grand centerpiece for my table with the addition of about three small pots of flowers and masses of fresh herbs and ivy! A soup tureen is portable, and you can use it in the living room with all of your demitasse cups for an elegant start to the evening. No one ever uses demitasse cups for their intended purpose and almost everyone that I know has inherited huge collections of them. Because they have handles, and a place to rest the spoon, soup is a fabulous way to use these often overlooked pieces! I've also served this particular soup many times in a large hollowed out pumpkin that has been placed in a wreath of gilded greens and fruits, yet another easy and gorgeous centerpiece!
A lovely glass of wine and a bit of cheese and /or pate served with the soup while you’re putting the finishing touches on the rest of the meal makes waiting for dinner a celebration in itself and a delightful way to begin the family evening. Because I’m serving the soup this year in Armetale pewter bowls, those same demitasse cups will be filled with a creamy pumpkin mousse for dessert (with chocolate shavings of course!) alongside of the traditional apple and pumpkin pies!
For me, satisfying entertaining has everything to do with keeping the evening warm and personal, even if you’ve got a real crowd on your hands! One of our favorite family traditions is to go around the table and have each person share what they are thankful for that year. Another is to have everyone who joins us bring something to share that they ate with their families, in a serving piece that is special to them. Don’t leave the table without letting everyone sitting there know just how much they mean to you. Take a pear, a gold or silver marker from the craft store and handwrite your guest’s names on each one for a quick and easy place card so they know just how much they belong! My mother always buys little tin pans from the grocery store, so that everyone takes home a bit of the meal for their lunch the next day. Why not share your family recipes, perhaps copied onto pretty paper or recipe cards so that you can give them out. (Don’t be modest; you know they’re going to ask!) This year, teach your children or grandchildren to cook with you, or let them help you set the table, and arrange the flowers so that they’ll always know what to do when they have families of their own. We can all discover new ways of connecting the old with the new, ways of creating traditions that are personal and related in a world that is quickly losing its sense of peace and security. Those are a few of mine; I’d love to know some of yours!
To quote the simple words found on a jar of Thanksgiving Tea from the charming Village Herb Shop in Chagrin Falls, “A delicious orange spice flavored black tea, combined with colorful calendula petals for joy, rosehips for the fruits of love,, orange peel for generosity and coriander meaning “your closeness is welcome”. How about those wishes served in front of a crackling fire along with dessert!
Wishing much love and a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!