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Martha's Thanksgiving at Bedford

Martha shares the details of a special Thanksgiving dinner showcased in “Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations.” The brown dining room at her home in Bedford, New York, was chock-full of turkeys: versions in gold, cranberry, and cornbread, plus the real thing -- a roasted heritage breed, Bourbon Red.

The Menu

Roast Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing
Glazed Carrots
Baby Brussels Sprouts with Wild Rice and Pecans
Cornbread “Turkeys”
Cranberry-Pomegranate Gelatin
Pumpkin Mousse

I approach each holiday during the year as a pleasant challenge. I certainly am not of the “do it the same exact way” school of entertaining, like some of my friends, whereby every Thanksgiving is identical to the last and the one before that. Their reasoning? “Everyone expects the same things; they will miss my sweet potatoes with marshmallows, they need their oyster stuffing.” Sound familiar? Well, as I have admitted, I am an enthusiast for change, for subtly altering the traditional to make it more interesting, more creative, more inventive. I am a firm believer that there are almost infinite choices for a single thing, such as the turkey. We now have access not only to the supermarket varieties and to frozen, factory-raised birds, but also to many heritage breeds -- including Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, Narragansett, and others -- as well as to wild turkeys, hybrid turkeys with extra-broad breasts, organically raised birds, and free-ranging specialty breeds. This opens up so many different ways of preparing a bird, including oven-roasting, smoking, deep-frying, spit-roasting, grilling, poaching, steaming, “turduckening,” and so on. And as for the sides, as everyone calls the accompanying vegetables, sauces, relishes, and stuffings: Should the stuffing be in or out of the bird? Baked in a dish or in a giant squash? Should the cranberries be used in a sauce, jelly, or tart filling, or should dried cranberries appear in the stuffing? And for dessert, should the pumpkin pie be fresh pumpkin, canned pumpkin, or squash?

I take notes during the year and tear out pictures of ideas that could possibly be used; we call these “tear sheets” at the magazine. I search farm stands for unusual pumpkins, gourds, and squash, looking for centerpiece inspiration. I also study the seed catalogs in hopes of discovering heirloom varieties to grow in my own garden in time for the holiday. I engage my crafters at the magazine to think of new ways to “think turkey,” in unexpected materials: Wood? Metal? Chocolate? Gilt? Glass? Pottery? 

For this Thanksgiving, I set a rustic table using some of my Spode turkey plates and platters and a fine antique rag runner down the center. Warty squash, pomegranates, Amy Goldman’s cast bronze squashes, and some old copper birds all made a wild and natural landscape down the middle of the long marble dining table. 

The festive meal was served in the brown dining room, which was once the tractor garage of the farm. Attached to the winter house, it is somewhat adjacent to the kitchen, but removed from the rest of the house. With one wall devoted to cupboards for silver, glass, and serving pieces; shelves containing some of my antique glass collection; two walls of floor-to-ceiling, Thomas Jefferson–inspired, triple-hung windows; and a fireplace wall, this large space is actually quite cozy and comfortable. The room also houses a very large wooden cage full of red canaries who sing while we eat, sometimes a bit too vociferously.

The food was superb and very Dutch "Vermeer" in appearance set up as a buffet on an English sideboard in a smaller dining room. The heritage turkey, a Bourbon Red, was raised in Connecticut and slaughtered by the farmer. The shape of the breed is elongated, unlike hybrid birds, which are much rounder. Roasted, the bird had lots of mahogany skin and tender, tasty meat. 

On the Table

Setting the Scene

The place settings, above left, were set directly on the indestructible marble tabletop. I used early flatware and hand-blown early glassware. The wide-bottomed goblets were originally designed for use on sailing ships -- the broad base prevents the glasses from tipping over. The plates are part of a set of early English Staffordshire. The counters in the servery just off the kitchen, above right, have several large decorative ornaments on them. We filled one urn with Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi), and set more gilded turkeys -- these ones originally crafted for the magazine -- to rest nearby.

On the Sideboard

The Buffet

The food was laid out on an English sideboard so guests could help themselves.

Pumpkin Mousse

In addition to pecan-caramel tart, double-crust apple pie, maple-pumpkin pie, and meringue with quince sorbet, Martha made a delicately spiced, creamy mousse. She spooned it into an assortment of goblets and served each topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

Celebrations: More from Martha

“I have always loved entertaining friends, family, and business colleagues. I approach all my entertaining— celebratory dinners, holiday feasts, cocktail parties, and weekend house parties—with an open mind, an enthusiastic spirit, and an inherent love of delicious food, carefully prepared and beautifully presented.” -- Martha

For other menus, recipes, and inspiration for extraordinary gatherings from Martha, get her book “Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations.”