Thanksgiving has come and gone, and it was a roaring success! Everyone got to have fun with the two new babies of the family, enjoy some great tasting homemade food, and most importantly, spend time together. Though our dinner was not without a few challenges along the way – among the 23 of us were 25 total different food restrictions, the oven/stove died mid-prep, a pie almost took a trip into the washing machine, and several cut fingers indicated we could all could benefit from some knife courses before the next large family gathering. Given that there is still another popular holiday meal coming up for most folks in less than a month now (yay Christmas!), I thought it might be helpful to share how we got on. I hope our tips and experience can help others who are planning what may look like a complicated or daunting set of food requirements, and also to show that it is totally possible to accommodate several food restrictions.
As I stated above, there were 25 total unique food restrictions among everyone at our Thanksgiving. Some people didn’t have any, some had several. Some were allergy based, some were for other health/medical reasons. Of the 23 of us, nearly a dozen had some sort of restriction to adhere to. In no particular order, they were:
The first strategy for accommodating food restrictions is cooking from scratch, because pre-made foods tend to not be very forgiving when multiple allergens need to be avoided. And with this list, clearly, trying to make every dish able to accommodate everyone is a serious challenge. So we didn’t. Instead, we had several of each type of dish in order to make sure that there was enough variety for everyone to enjoy at least one of something. It took a bit of organizing ahead of time, but really did not require that much more effort than was already going into making food for 23 people. We had three turkeys, two stuffings, two sweet potato casseroles and one mashed potatoes, two green salads, jello salad, several different vegetables, and three types of dinner rolls. And then there was pie. And more pie. And truffles!
I brined one turkey and the other two were deep fried. Three turkeys may sound like a lot, but when there are over 20 people at Thanksgiving, they were well needed! The main issue here regarding food restrictions was avoiding garlic and black pepper, so one of the fried turkeys was done with a homemade rub, and it was fried first before the other. I brined the third turkey starting the night before, with herbs, salt and apple cider. For roasting I covered it in coconut oil, which worked as a great butter substitute. The bigger concern with prepping the turkeys though was not the food restrictions, but the fact that the oven/stove died mid-way through roasting my brined bird! Luckily the grill was still working great, so we moved the covered turkey to the grill to finish it off. In fact, most everything we cooked that day ended up getting finished on the grill – my dad even used the grill for gravy (a simple substitution with GF flour and I have now discovered that coconut oil works great for making a roux).
We had two stuffings – one gluten free / vegetarian with chestnuts (I just omitted the sausage from my chestnut stuffing recipe and also left out the eggs, using only broth for it to come together), one gluteny with homemade sausage (to avoid some of the spices that people couldn’t have). We could not find gluten free bread that was potato free, but luckily my sister-in-law who had the potato allergy did not have a gluten issue, so we were able to coordinate the gluteny stuffing to match all of her restrictions. Using turkey or vegetable stock instead of chicken stock worked out really well for avoiding the chicken allergies.
For starches, we had mashed potatoes, but also two sweet potato casseroles – a dairy / refined sugar free version (made with coconut milk and agave) and a regular sweetened version. Several kinds of vegetables decorated the tables, from steamed green beans to homemade casseroles to brussels sprouts. Salads were best handled by mixing together a minimal amount of ingredients and having most on the side for a bit of a “fix-your-own” style. My dad’s included candied pecans, and he even made a batch of pecans using only maple syrup as the sugar (to be refined sugar free) – those were fantastic! There was also a creamy greens salad and a jello salad. My mother in law made three batches of dinner rolls – gluteny, gluten free, and dairy free.
And then there was pie (luckily baked the day before so no issues with the broken oven).
Two pumpkin pies, a tarte au citron, pecan pies, chocolate truffles, cookies, my mom’s California-style cheesecake, candied pecans, fruit, and more things that I can’t quite recall at the moment. Pie is a very important feature of Thanksgiving in our family. I made my gluten free pie crust for the tarte shell and also one of the pumpkin pies, and my mom’s cheesecake was easily made gluten free by using some store-bought GF sugar cookies to make the crumb crust. The other pumpkin pie was dairy free, and with so many different desserts there was plenty to go around, and something for everyone.
But my apple pie did go on a bit of an adventure. I tried a new-to-me gluten free/dairy free apple pie recipe. Unfortunately the recipe’s ratio of ingredients for the crust was way off, and even blind baked there was no way the pecan/coconut oil crust could stay in place and by the time it was done baking in the oven, it had all slid down and essentially filled in my pie tin, leaving no place for the filling. ”No matter,” I thought, “we’ll just turn it into a crumble. I’ll keep preparing the filling and then break the crust up and use it as the topping and bake it all together.” That actually wasn’t a bad idea, and turned out to be a great way to “save” the pie. By this time we had run out of counter space and so had laid some towels over the washer and dryer (which are right next to the kitchen in my in-law’s home) to make more room. I decided to store the pie there overnight. This was all well and good until my husband’s sister decided to do some laundry and didn’t realize there was a baked dessert on top of the washer before she opened up the lid – a few seconds later the apple pie crumble was dangerously close to taking a trip through the washing machine! Luckily it was caught in time, and able to be enjoyed. It ended up tasting quite lovely over ice cream.
Was it stressful trying to plan a holiday meal for so many people and keep all those food restrictions between everyone straight? Actually, not really. We made sure that within each course – turkey, veggies, stuffing, rolls, salad, dessert – there was at least one dish each person could eat. I think it actually helped that there are so many in my family that have food restrictions – because everyone is already used to figuring out how to organize and adapt recipes to accommodate, and is pretty educated about avoiding cross contamination where necessary, etc. especially for the allergies and intolerances. Then we just made a master list and went through each course – if so-and-so is making a dish with these things, then I can make a second one that takes into account these restrictions and we can cover just about everyone. And sometimes, you just gotta accept the fact that your dinner plate may not be able to have your aunt’s green bean casserole on it this year, and that’s ok. Really, the key to a large family gathering with so many restrictions was a bit of organization ahead of time and communication, and variety.
As you can see by my photos, we kept everything pretty relaxed. No one got out the china, this Thanksgiving was essentially a giant pot-luck, a gathering of both my family and my husband’s (new babies are good for spending the holidays all together). With this type of family event where dishes are made for 20+ people, sometimes it’s just not about fussing over making a dish look its prettiest. Yes it’s about good home-cooked food, but most importantly it’s about the family and friends who are sharing it together. Large portions, lots of hugs, laughter and photos. Everyone got to be themselves, have fun, and just enjoy sharing the day together. We have a lot to be thankful for this year
Also submitted to Gluten Free Wednesdays