My grandmother graduated from the University of Texas in 1961 with a degree in Home Economics. Her curriculum covered the “economics and management of the home,” which included everything from human nutrition and child development to cleaning, cooking and hosting. It sounds so old-fashioned in the context of today, like a plot straight out of Leave It to Beaver. That being said, it also sounds like an incredibly handy skillset when Thanksgiving rolls around.
I’ve never hosted a “real” Thanksgiving, but I have hosted two Friendsgivings, and I’ve learned numerous important lessons-the-hard-way from each of them. For example, after once inviting friends to bring their own dish, potluck-style, and eating three different versions of mashed potatoes and some highly questionable figgy pudding, I now prefer to Venmo-request everyone $10 and buy prepared food to save our respective palates/digestive tracts.
I know there are plenty more lessons to be learned, though, and I’d prefer to learn them the easy way this, so I called up my grandmother and asked for her best Home Economics hosting tips. If you’re planning to commandeer any Turkey Day-related festivities in the coming days, I highly recommend following her advice below. She basically majored in Thanksgiving, after all.
If you’re cooking something for the first time, do your research.
“Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for eight couples was part of my ‘final exam’ during the last semester of college. I had never seen turkey being roasted before, so I didn’t know the butcher usually wraps up all the stuff you use to make gravy, like the liver and heart and gizzard, and puts it in the turkey’s neck. I ended up roasting the turkey with all that stuff still inside. I didn’t realize until I started carving it and hit the paper bag with my knife. Luckily I was able to dispose of it before my teacher saw. Imagine if someone had gotten a bite of gizzard with their turkey leg!”
Ed note: I told her she couldn’t say “gizzard” more than twice in this story.
Wear practical shoes.
“During that same Thanksgiving dinner my last semester in college, I was carrying a huge silver tray of grapefruit out to the dining room for dessert, and I slipped and fell. All the tiny pre-cut sections of grapefruit flew into the air. I had to grab a kitchen spatula and invert them back in one by one. Luckily I knew the floor was clean because I had scrubbed it myself.”
Ed note: The most scandalous part of this anecdote is the fact that she served her guests grapefruit for Thanksgiving dessert, IMO.
Err on the side of too much food rather than too little.
“People usually arrive hungrier-than-usual for a big Thanksgiving meal. Calculate your food quantities carefully. Oh, and put out big bowls of chips and hummus or crudite with ranch dressing so everyone can fill up a little before the main event. That’s a great little cheat.”
Ed note: I will add that if you DO end up with too much food, don’t hesitate to send guests home with leftovers. After my first Friendsgiving I was left with a fridge full of languishing Tupperware, only to come home from actual Thanksgiving with my family to find their contents covered in mold.
Cook as much as you can in advance.
“The whole point of throwing a dinner party is to enjoy yourself. If you’re stressed and running back and forth between your guests and the kitchen the whole time trying to perfectly time your green beans, that’s not going to be fun for anyone. I recommend preparing things like roasted vegetables or big casseroles the night before. Do this with anything else you can simply stick in the oven and warm up as your guests arrive.”
Ed note: I know this seems obvious, but as a fairly infrequent host, I’ve never thought to actually PREPARE STUFF THE DAY BEFORE. I’m always running around the day of like a turkey with my head cut off and inevitably get crunched on time when all of a sudden it’s 6 p.m., I haven’t showered and I’m still out hunting for sweet potatoes.
Invite at least a few people who already know each other.
“This helps conversation to flow naturally and avoid awkward silences. As the host, you don’t want to be the only thing people have in common. That’s exhausting.”
Ed note: I’ve personally never run into this challenge because I like my social events like I like my winter bedding: a downy cocoon of familiar, laziness-facilitating comfort, but perhaps you fraternize with acquaintances more than I?
Ask about allergies in advance.
“Some people have terrible reactions to shellfish.”
Ed note: Um, Susu*…Thanksgiving shellfish? She’s not wrong about asking ahead, though. These days there’s always someone dairy/gluten/sugar/nightshade/cockroach-free, so I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
*My grandmother’s name is Susan. I call my grandmother Susu. Enjoy.
My grandmother asked if I could send her a hard copy of this story when it comes out, and as a dutiful granddaughter I plan to comply. I’ll print out the comments, too, so by all means, fire away. What are your hosting tips?
Photos by Mary Faulconer/Conde Nast via Getty Images and via Harling Ross.